Finding the Sweetness
It was so great to see so many of you in our sanctuary for the High Holy Days, and to know that even more were with us online. On Rosh HaShanah, we greeted each other with the phrase shanah tovah (“a good year”). Some people even say “shana tovah u-m’tukah (“a good and sweet year”).
But we are now in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, sometimes referred to by its full name, Marcheshvan. The first syllable is often related to the word mar, meaning “bitter;” and many people say that we call this month “bitter” because of its lack of holidays. For some, a break from all these holidays is not bitter, but sweet! But after a month of wishing each other a sweet new year, it seems strange for the calendar to embrace bitterness so quickly, only a month later.
A month known as “bitter” may seem to many people like a month full of bad luck. The well-known Israeli song “Al Kol Eleh,” by Naomi Shemer, talks about embracing both the bitter and the sweet (hamar v’ha-matok), but, nevertheless, it’s a tough pill to swallow for many.
When someone tells us from the get-go that something is going to be a negative experience, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bad luck will seem to follow us everywhere we go. But what about all the good things that happen in Cheshvan? Certainly, good things happen every day, if we only look for them.
It turns out, however, that the entire idea of Marcheshvan that is conventionally taught may actually be just a big misconception!
The Hebrew months were actually taken from Babylonia, and in the Akkadian language (spoken by the Babylonians), the pronunciation for the corresponding letters to “M” and “V” are actually interchanged. And so, the word מרחשון (Marcheshvan) is essentially a way of stating ירח שמיני, meaning, “the eighth moon/month.” Essentially, the name Marcheshvan has nothing to do with bitterness at all, just its position on the calendar (our new year’s celebration, Rosh HaShanah is technically during the 7th month.)
Regardless of what we call it, this should be a month of joy. Though we are not in control of everything that goes on in the universe, or even our own lives, we do our best to make our own luck. We do it through our attitude. When life seems bitter on the surface, we dig deeper, and find a reason to make it sweet.
May we keep the sweetness going all year long!