Welcoming Cheshvan

Posted on November 1, 2016 by Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus

It seemed as if all through the Holy Day Season, I couldn’t wait to get to the next holy moment. During the month of Elul, I couldn’t wait to get to S’lichot. At Selichot, I couldn’t wait to get to Rosh Hashanah. During Rosh Hashanah, I couldn’t wait to get to Tashlich. After that, I couldn’t wait to get to Kol Nidrei. After Kol Nidrei, I couldn’t wait to get to the mincha (afternoon) service on Yom Kippur, because I was very excited about using the new prayer book, and how it would affect my prayers.

At Break Fast, I couldn’t wait to get to Sukkot, because I love having a sukkah (lovingly built by my husband, with a little help from the rest of us), having my son help decorate the sukkah, eating in a sukkah, bringing guests to my sukkah…you get the picture.

On Simchat Torah (maybe it was the effect of all the dancing?), I actually paused. I was caught by the great sadness that comes at the end of the last book of the Torah, when the Jewish people weep for the 30 days after the death of Moses: “And there was never again another prophet like Moses – one who knew God face to face”….and the book ends. But immediately after this we chant: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We read the first chapter of B’reishit, the first book in the Torah. And suddenly, it seemed to me that the most visceral moment of teshuvah (repentance, from the word, to return) would be coming the following Shabbat, when we complete the parasha of B’reishit, and the cycle of weekly Torah readings starts once again.

I am thinking of teshuvah in the sense of a resetting, a redirection, a return to one’s better self, even a self that you may not have expressed before, but which is the best expression of you. According to the ancient Rabbis, teshuvah is possible until Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. According to Chasidic text, the Gates of Repentance are always open. But perhaps our best opportunity for a Sabbath of Return is Shabbat B’reishit, because this is when the Torah begins again. The year begins again. Everything is possible again. The Torah starts fresh, and so can we.

Even if you missed the entire Holy Day season: all the contrition and all the thankfulness, you can still jump on the B’reishit bandwagon and start over. And where do we start? In Cheshvan, plain Cheshvan, the month with no holidays and no fancy clothes. For this reason, the rabbis called it ‘Marcheshvan’, or ‘bitter Cheshvan’, but I don’t see it that way. The days become shorter and colder, but this only invites the length and warmth of the spirit to grow in opposition. We can use the time to raise up and sanctify each day and each moment as it comes. With no instance of prioritized holiday (aside from Shabbat), all moments are equal: a plethora of potential starting points for transformation and for rededicating our lives anew.


Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus