There is a custom to call the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, the month that follows Tishrei, MarCheshvan, meaning “bitter” Cheshvan. The background is because there are no holidays during this month, and it is the only month in the Jewish calendar without holidays, that it is a bitter month, thus MarCheshvan. I do get the idea, particularly after concluding the Fall holidays in such a joyous fashion with Simchat Torah, but I just cannot do so.
The Fall holiday season begins for me in July, when I begin to review the Machzor, reflect on who I was this past year, see what new recitative I wish to add, and think about subjects for all of my sermons. The reality hits on the first day of the month of Elul, when we commence the sounding of the shofar during weekday morning services as well as the recitation of Psalm 27 both morning and evening. Selichot heightens the anticipation for the entire community, as we hear the familiar chants of nusach, especially for the Musaf Chatzi Kaddish, and begin daily recitation of Selichot. With Maariv for the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, we have entered a non-stop 23-day cycle: Rosh Hashanah into Yom Kippur into Sukkot into Shemini Atzeret into Simchat Torah. It is a Jewish triathlon, and by the time Yom Tov has concluded, I am exhausted, both physically and mentally. I am grateful to God that I have been gifted the privilege of these days, yet grateful when they end.
The Sukkah has been disassembled and properly stored until next year. A return to the ordinary routine of six days followed by Shabbat is welcome. Shabbat returns to its primacy as the highlight of the week. The mundane tasks and events of the week are refreshing as we are re-introduced to them without interruption. While the Fall holidays are indeed a significant part of our regular calendar for the year, so too are periods of time wherein there are no celebrations. While their absence makes us wish for more celebrations, we all need some time to recharge, recuperate and reflect. Only by returning to a more mundane schedule do we appreciate what each holiday adds to our lives, but yet the opposite is true – we can appreciate our day-to-day existence within the ordinary when the extraordinary is not present.
I respect the tradition of MarCheshvan and get the idea, but coming so soon after the conclusion of the Jewish holiday triathlon, I have an appreciation for the ordinary week that God created, and don’t take that for granted. I just cannot add Mar to Cheshvan. May your Cheshvan not be Mar.