The Mitzvah of Cheshvan

We are in a time of false starts and uncertainty. Just last week in Judaism, we read not only one, but two, creation stories. This week, we will read about God washing out and wiping away nearly all of Creation. The people will build a massive tower, only to be thwarted by the curse of linguistic difference. We have beat our willows and cried our tears. The U.S. government refuses to function. The holidays have taken us on a spiritual journey of joy, fear, awe, and of course, starting again.

We have lost our sense of time and rhythm through these holidays, between creations, under destructions, and across divisions. We are disoriented, not knowing what is next. We have traveled through the time of our joy without knowing if we have been inscribed in the book of life. There is a lot unknown.

We find ourselves almost in the month of MarCheshvan. Bitter Cheshvan, with no holidays or unique mitzvot.

It is as if the deluge of holidays in the month of Tishrei washed away our ability to come together and celebrate in Cheshvan. Instead, we are floating through time and space, without a holiday until the end of Kislev when we will celebrate Chanukkah.

When Noach floated through the flood, he floated in his tevah, his ark. Tevah is an odd word. Its origins are unknown and it is only used in one other place in Tanakh, another beginning—the beginning of Moshe’s story, who is placed in a basket to be saved from another destruction.
Ocean Landscape Wave
With Noach, the tevah contains not only Noach and his family, but two of every animal as well. Moshe’s tevah is probably a little smaller. The fact that the text uses this same word to describe Noach’s massive ark of gopher wood and Moshe’s tiny basket of pitch and slime, tells us that tevah is not about size or material. It is about context. And it is about God.

What these two tevot have in common is that they are divine sanctuaries amidst seas of danger and uncertainty, bringing forth hope and salvation. Amidst anxious times, in the middle of new beginnings, surrounded by the possibility of death, destruction and despair–God guides these tevot to safety, keeping their contents safe, offering renewal and liberation.

It is no accident that we will read this story on Rosh Chodesh MarChesvan, the first day of this ‘bitter’ month.

As we float through this uncertain time, this time without holiday markers, this water without land in sight, we can be comforted with the knowledge that God provides a tevah during this time, to guide us, keep us safe, and carry us to our yet unknown destinations. Our work is to discern what our own personal tevah is made of. It may not be Noach’s wood or Moshe’s pitch and slime. It might be prayer. It might be community. It might be meditation or text, or games or art, or hugs– somewhere, God is providing us with the materials to make our tevah. God says to Noach, Aseh l’cha tevah—make for yourself a tevah (Gen. 6:14).

This is the mitzvah of Cheshvan. To find our materials and build our tevah.

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Photo via flickr, courtesy Cuba Gallery.

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One thought on “The Mitzvah of Cheshvan

  1. Alex,

    Since we only see each other in passing, it’s such a pleasure to read your thoughts. I think you bring up a fascinating question, what is the purpose for so many Jewish HolyDays being so tightly squeezed in such a short period? My response this year, or maybe my hope, is that by the end of this period I will have built myself a Teivah for this coming year (though of course it’s always open to reconstruction and hopefully repair). However, of the many beautiful aspects of our tradition is that by often focusing on the actions (and not theology) it allows us the freedom to experience and interpret the same holy days and events in a way that is most meaningful for us at that particular time.

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