Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan Torah Essay
Marcheshvan gets a bad rap. Many people often translate mar in the month’s name to mean bitter. Yet perhaps a more accurate definition of the month’s name, and more uplifting, can be understood through a pasuk in Yeshayahu. In Yeshayahu 40:15, the pasuk states- הֵ֤ן גּוֹיִם֙ כְּמַ֣ר מִדְּלִ֔י. The Targum here translates mar to mean a drop, translating the pasuk to read “the nations are but a drop in a bucket.” Based on this translation of mar, meaning a drop of water, the Pri Chadash (Even HaEzer 126:7) explains that the reason behind the name Marcheshvan is because Marcheshvan is the beginning of the rainy season. Rather than reflecting bitterness, the name Marcheshvan connotes a hope for the blessing of rain to be showered upon us.
Aside from the agricultural connection of Marcheshvan and rain, another connection between the two can be found in the parshiot bookending Shabbat Mevarchim for Marcheshvan and the first Shabbat after Rosh Chodesh – Parshat Bereshit and Parshat Noach. In Bereshit, after the account of creation in chapter one, the Torah states, “no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted because Hashem Elokim had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the land” (Bereshit 2:5). It is fascinating that as we stand on the cusp of the chodesh of Marcheshvan, we read about the lack of rain on earth. And more than that, we are given a reason- “there was no man to work the land.” Rashi (Bereshit 2:5) explains that Hashem had not yet sent down rain because there was no one to appreciate the need for rain. It was not until man was created and recognized the need for rain that he could pray to G-d to cause it to rain.
In contrast to the lack of rain we read about in the parsha before Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan, on the first Shabbat after Rosh Chodesh we read Parshat Noach where we hear about rain to the extreme. What is the deeper meaning behind these glaring connections to rain surrounding Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan?
Before we answer that question, I want to raise one more question based on another connection between Marcheshvan and rain. On Shemini Atzeret, we began inserting mashiv ha’ruach u’morid ha’geshem into our Shemonah Esrai. Interestingly, in Israel, we start adding v’ten tal u’matar to our Shemonah Esrai on the night of the seventh of Marcheshvan. What is the difference between mashiv ha’ruach and v’ten tal u’matar? Why do we begin saying one in Tishrei and the other in Marcheshvan?
If we look at both additions of mashiv haruach and v’ten tal u’matar, we will notice one major difference between the two. Mashiv ha’ruach u’morid ha’geshem is a statement, where we declare that Hashem “makes the wind blow and the rain fall.” By contrast, v’ten tal u’matar is a prayer, a request, asking G-d to “grant us dew and rain as a blessing.” With this in mind, we can now appreciate why we begin saying mashiv ha’ruach in Tishrei and v’ten tal u’matar in Marcheshvan. Tishrei, the month with the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot is when we make declarations and resolutions- we declare G-d as king, we reflect on our previous year and resolve to be and do better, and reframe our connection with G-d. Marcheshvan, on the other hand, which in stark contrast has no holidays or fast days, is the month of action, of no longer just making statements, but trying to implement them – both through prayer and through practice.
In Bereshit, before the month of Marcheshvan, we read that everything was created but rain had not yet fallen as man was not there to work the land, or as Rashi says- man was not yet there to appreciate the need for rain and pray for it. The month of Tishrei is when the seeds are planted for the rest of the year. Marcheshvan is when we water those seeds and cause them to grow, cause them to spurt from the ground and be seen. Yet with that too, Parshat Noach cautions us against how we water those seeds and reminds us that although water can be constructive, it can also be destructive. Marcheshvan is a time to work on our commitments and connection to G-d in a balanced and healthy way, allowing the effort we invested in the month of Tishrei to be actualized.
Marcheshvan can therefore be seen as one of the most important months. On Tishrei we toiled and worked hard laying the groundwork. But without the month of Marcheshvan where we consistently water those seeds and begin putting those resolutions to practice, our relationship to G-d cannot grow. This need for day-to-day action and consistency is reflected in a midrash quoted in the introduction to the Ein Yaakov. In the midrash, different opinions are cited as to what is the most important, or all-inclusive, pasuk in the Torah. Ben Zoma, for example, posits that it is “Shema Yisrael.” Ben Nanas claims it is “v’ahavta l’re’acha ka’mocha.” Shimon ben Pazi, however, quotes a more obscure pasuk of “את הכבש האחד תעשה בבקר ואת הכבש השני תעשה בין הערבים”- “prepare one lamb in the morning and the other toward evening” which is a reference to the korban tamid- the daily offering that was brought twice a day in the time of the Beit HaMikdash. The midrash then concludes with a statement from R’ Ploni who stood up and declared the halakha is in accordance with Ben Pazi. How is the pasuk about the korban tamid the most fundamental? The Maharal explains that this pasuk of “prepare one lamb in the morning and one in the evening” reflects the need for our consistent, day-in, day-out service of G-d.
In this month of Marcheshvan, let us appreciate this “quiet” time we were given, without the glamor of chagim, to focus on watering the seeds we planted in Tishrei and asking Hashem to help us with this endeavor both physically and spiritually when we say the words, “v’ten tal u’matar l’vracha.”