The seeds we plant in ourselves will bloom
You may have heard the sound as Jewish professionals everywhere breathed a sigh of relief last week with the advent of Rosh Hodesh Heshvan. That is because Heshvan, which follows Tishri, is the only Jewish month that contains no holiday or festival. The rabbis played on the ancient linguistic roots of the month, calling it Marheshvan, meaning “bitter Heshvan.” Some attribute this negative term to the lack of festivals, while others say it is because our matriarch Sarah is purported to have died during this month.
It is an interesting choice of verbiage, for not even the month of Av – when we commemorate the destruction of the Temple – is described so dismally. In the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), this month is described as yerah bul, “the month of withering.” (I Kings 6:38). Indeed, as summer fades, we need only look out our own windows to see the flora giving way to its winter state. Another commentator interprets the word bul to mean mabul (“flood”), making Heshvan the month of floods – no doubt because of the heavy rains that start falling in Israel at this time of year, as well as the proximity to our reading of parashat Noah.
However we translate it, it does appear that we have entered a dark and dreary part of the year.
Yet, there is a wisdom to our calendar. How could we possibly top the “highs” of Tishri, filled with celebration, family, joy and more honeycake than anyone really wants to eat? Heshvan is just the reverse; it is a time to revel in the ordinary or everyday activities, a time to buckle down to the routines and daily duties that beckon each of us. Heshvan teaches us to find joy in the valleys as well as on the peaks.
When the final summer crops have been gathered in, this also means that it is time to begin planting again. Perhaps the festival-free month of Heshvan gives us space to grow. The rains that fall nourish the seeds planted during the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), so that our visions of transformation can bloom into reality. The quietude of Heshvan is the time to act upon the inspiration we gained from Tishri.
The idea that blessings will indeed sprout from what appears to be decay has a name: faith. In this rainy season, may we be able to access our faith even when the sun does not shine. As we go forth into the new year of 5774, may we reap joy and harvest goodness from seeds lovingly sown in the preceding days and weeks.
Rabbi Sarah Mack (RabbiMack@temple-beth-el.org) is a rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Providence.