I hope to engage the Jewish people in all facets of Jewish life including prayer, social justice, and Jewish living. I felt I needed a place where I can post some thoughts that might not be fit for a sermon, but longer than a Facebook status update. The posts, responses, opinions and thoughts on this blog do not necessarily reflect the institutional views or practices of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.
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.
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
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.