The month of Cheshvan comes after the slew of busy High Holy Days. It is the only month on the Jewish calendar in which no holiday falls, but it’s not a month to be overlooked.
We asked two rabbis what we need to know about the second month, which began at sundown on Oct. 6.
1. Cheshvan isn’t its only name
Cheshvan is also referred to as Marcheshvan, and the debate around which is the proper name is spirited. Both names are derived from the Babylonian calendar. The “mar” in Marcheshvan means “bitter,” said Rabbi Jeremy Kridel of Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism.
Adds Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore,
“It’s given this name of bitterness because it’s the one Jewish month that has nothing in it.”
2. By lacking holidays, it allows for self-reflection
Cheshvan’s lack of holidays offers plenty of time for Jews to make the changes they talked about during the high holidays, Kridel said.
“It gives you a chance to actually put the rubber to the road,” Kridel said. “Now’s the time to do that, because you don’t have a Jewish holiday to distract you. You’ve got a chance to take these more serious resolutions that we made for the high holidays and actually do something with them, really focus on those bigger picture things that you told yourself you were going to do.”
3. Rabbis need a break, too
After the packed schedules during the previous month of Tishri, Cheshvan’s open calendar allows rabbis a chance to catch their breath. Gruenberg plans to use Cheshvan to get more involved with his synagogue. “I want to really roll up my sleeves and engage with the community this month, get back to basics,” he said.
Kridel said Cheshvan offers a much-needed break: “For a lot of rabbis it’s a chance to get a slight break because Tishri is kind of wall-to-wall activity almost, so Cheshvan is often viewed as, ‘OK, here’s where we get to take a break and recalibrate ourselves.’” Kridel is using Cheshvan to focus more on his congregation’s school and will be attending numerous weddings. Kridel finds the joyful marriage ceremonies rejuvenating. “It’s a nice opportunity to remember why we do some of the work that we do in the first place — which is to see people engage in being Jewish and celebrate big things in their lives.”
4. It’s a good opportunity to get out and appreciate everyday life
In the Washington area, Cheshvan marks the beginning of cooler autumn temperatures, giving people a chance to get outside again. “The weather is cooling off, but it’s not cold,” Kridel said, “and it’s a good time to just appreciate the world around you.”
5. Its significance is what you make of it
“The onus falls on us,” Gruenberg said, to create moments of joy during Cheshvan. “We have to be more purposeful, the calendar’s not going to do it for us.”
Gruenberg said the magic of Cheshvan is that it’s all up to interpretation. “If you ask the teachers in Jewish day schools, they’ll tell you the significance” of Cheshvan is that school isn’t off for holidays, said Gruenberg. “If you ask a rabbi, they’ll tell you the significance is all of the things that they said they were going to do after the holidays, they actually have a month in which to do them.”
6. You can still have fun even when there are no holidays
The majority of the year is filled with regular days. Gruenberg recommended people find joy even in days that are seemingly boring, because happiness exists even when there isn’t a formal holiday telling one to celebrate. “Our holidays in the first month, they’re wonderful and they’re special and they’re amazing, but they’re not everyday life,” said Gruenberg. “Most days are just regular old nondescript days, and that’s really where life is,” he said. “There’s something nice about the fact that following all of the holidays you get to live in the reality of the everyday.” As Gruenberg pointed out, “You don’t need holidays to have a good old fun Jewish time.” Happiness and celebration come from people’s abilities to recognize the beautifully simple moments of their days. “It’s up to us to create that joy and to create that meaning and seek out how we’re going to find [purpose] in our lives.”