It’s Cheshvan and it’s dark. After the dizzying heights of Tishrei where we crowned G-d as king, where we stood before Him like angels, and danced with the Torah in exuberance, where G-d created an entire new Holiday just because He didn’t want us to leave. Then we get Cheshvan.
Also known as MarCheshvan, meaning Bitter Cheshvan, this month is entirely barren of Jewish holidays. Instead, it is characterized by shortening days, darkness, and the closing in of the winter. It’s back to daily routine, back to the grind. Even its zodiac symbol is not reassuring; the month of the Scorpio is usually associated with the scorpion, replete with its stinging quills. And to top it all off, its only significant day is the 11th, which marks the tragic death of our matriarch Rachel during childbirth and her burial on the wayside; outside of Israel and the burial cave of our ancestors.
How do we find inspiration and meaning in this seemingly desolate month?
Yet the answer lies in the question. The key to this month is indeed its emptiness. Because the beauty of ‘nothing’ is its potential to create ‘something’. A blank easel can be covered with breathtaking artwork, an empty pouch can be filled with diamonds, a young impressionable mind can be transformed with knowledge.
Cheshvan is G-d’s gift to us of an empty vessel. Our task in Cheshvan is not to dance on the mountaintops of Tishrei, but to go back to our everyday lives, whatever they may be, and to transform the mundane.
To keep on doing whatever we have always been doing, yet in the path of G-d. Where we take the ordinary and the basic and transform it into dazzling meaning. It is the month of potential, the month where each of us as individuals can find G-d and purpose in our every action, in this month which lies empty, waiting for us to fill it with ourselves, our lives. Because that is our purpose here in the universe; to elevate the physical to the spiritual through our actions and deeds.
Interestingly, the Kabbalah tells us that of all of our ancestors, it is Rachel, the matriarch of the month, who is associated with this quality; to consistently walk willingly and naturally in the path of G-d, whatever the occasion, to bear Him in mind at all times, regardless of what one is occupied with.
The Midrash explains that the reason that Rachel was buried on the wayside was so that when the Jews would be exiled from the land of Israel they would pass by her grave on the way to Babylon, and there they would weep and beg for mercy. And indeed they did so. And out of the entire line-up of great leaders of the Jewish people who came to Rachel who could stand before G-d and invoke her merit. It was only to her that G-d replied ‘מבכי קולך מנעי’ – ‘Cease your tears as there is reward for your work, and your children will return to their borders.
Indeed, we are told that it is in the month of Cheshvan that the third Temple will finally be built. And in fact, this month’s zodiac symbol is also commonly characterized by the phoenix. It is in this month that we can work to elevate our everyday lives, so that like a phoenix we will rise from the ashes to the rebirth of our nation.