Bittersweet

Now that the holidays are over, its time to get back to my regular weekly posting.

We are at the end of the month of Tishrei, which is chock full of holidays: the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the New Year and the Day of Atonement; the fall harvest festival of Sukkot and the celebration of Simchat Torah. This weekend is the beginning of the new month of Cheshvan.

Cheshvan is traditionally also called Marcheshvan. “Mar” in Hebrew means “bitter” (think of maror–the bitter herb–from Passover), and is called such because there are no holidays or special celebrations during the month.

Bitter? Maybe. But after a month full of holidays Cheshvan can seem like a welcome break. But a month of no holidays following a month full of holidays has its own challenge. How to keep the spirit of the holidays going? Sometimes we treat holidays as a distraction, or a break from the rest of our lives. But our Jewish holidays aren’t meant to be completely separate from our usual day-to-day. Yes they are a change from the ordinary–we don’t fast every day nor do we sit in the Sukkah for more than a week. But the themes of the holidays are meant to inform us through out the year.

So: How do we take the intention-setting of Rosh Hashanah, the repentance and self-improvement of Yom Kippur, the connection to nature and reminder of the fragility of life of Sukkot, and the joy of endings and new beginnings with Simchat Torah, and make those values we connect with throughout the rest of the year?

That is our job for the next month. No holidays may make Cheshvan bitter. But the ability to continue the holidays of the past month make it sweet.

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