Why I’m wearing Blue on Rosh Chodesh MarChesvan

Why I’m wearing Blue on Rosh Chodesh MarChesvan
By Rabbi David Baum



By Rabbi David Baum

Rosh Chodesh is supposed to be a happy time – but this month, is kind of bitter.  Today is Rosh Chodesh Heshvan but the month is commonly called Marcheshvan.  The month is related to an Akadian word which was the 8th month of the Babylonian calendar.[1]  
There is a tradition in Judaism to emphasis the bitterness when we say Marcheshvan, Mar, the bitter, and then Cheshvan – the bitter.
The rabbis say it’s bitter because there are no Jewish holidays in the month.  But to be honest, as rabbi of a busy shul, maybe it’s good to have one month without a Jewish holiday! 

There are other explanations for the name of the month, and I think it’s important to highlight them at this time. 

The Pri Chadash (Even Ha’ezer 126:7) offers the only explanation that I have found for calling this month by the two-word name Mar Cheshvan.  He suggests that the name Mar Cheshvan is based on the fact that it is the beginning of the rainy season.  The Targum Onkelos translated mar as tipah, a drop, in the verse “Hen goyim k’mar midli — Behold, the nations are as a drop of [water from] a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15).  As such, the name means the “rainy Cheshvan,” and far from mar meaning bitter, it connotes a month of blessed rain.

If we take it from this perspective, this is a month that we focus our energies and thoughts on day-to-day living in Israel, a month without holidays, that is seemingly mundane, and yet, there is an underlying struggle of life and death.

So on this Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan, I am wearing blue, to remember the life and death struggle of water in Israel, and to remember that Israelis are once again in a period of extreme fear with the rampant stabbings of Israelis by terrorists around the country. 

Rosh Chodesh is a happy time, but we see that even within the Hallel that we sing in the morning service, there is still angst, especially in Psalm 118. 

“5 In distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and brought me relief.”

Metzar is a narrow place – it’s not just a physical place, but a spiritual place, or a state of mind.  I can tell you, living first hand through terrorism in Israel from 2002-2003, it can feel like a narrow place.  I lived through bus bombings on a weekly basis.  I will never forget that ‘narrow place’; that narrow place that was far from buses, or restaurants, running away from them lest there be an explosion. 

And no matter what security measures are in place, you never feel quite secure….

“8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mortals;”  Which is why you ultimately feel, better to depend on God that to trust in mortals. 

And as you live through it, you feel as if you are being ‘surrounded and encircled’ (verse 11).

And so on this Rosh Chodesh, we acknowledge the bitter during a happy time.  We pray for the ending of metzar, the narrow, to Merchav, opening and wideness, in other words, physical, mental, and spiritual freedom. 

As a Jewish community living outside the land, we play a special role.  We are a place where Israel matters – where we educate about Israel, like our License to Chai class, or our 70 Faces of Israel initiative from last year.  It’s a place where we support Israel, through advocacy, like AIPAC, or monetarily, through Israel Bonds. 

Israel is part of the fabric of who we are. 

It’s a bitter time, but we pray for sweetness. 

The Bnei Yissaschar (2:56-57) Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov relates a beautiful midrash about the future of Marcheshvan indicating that the dedication of the Third Temple will occur in Marcheshvan, removing any doubt about it being a bitter month.

The Temple mount is a battle ground today – let’s pray for a future where all people’s come together, as we read in the book of Isaiah:

7 I will bring them to My sacred mount
And let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
Shall be welcome on My altar;
For My House shall be called
A house of prayer for all peoples.”

But before we see the Messianic age, let us pray for a return to normalcy, a return to a time when Israelis no longer live in fear, when they go from narrow straits to wide open freedom.  




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshvan

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