It’s been a while… The month of Tishrei, coming to a close, was ushered in without a prelude. To confuse the Satan, who would relish nothing better than to trip us up and bring charges against us in the Heavenly court on the Yom HaDin, we never trumpet the coming of Tishrei on the Shabbos prior.
The anticlimactic mood accompanying the arrival of MarCheshvan is hardly surprising, coming as it does on the heels of the vibrant Yomim Tovim which kept us on our toes and then some. Truth be told, the very nature of the season augments the blues, what with the rapidly shrinking daylight hours and autumn’s falling leaves drifting aimlessly about in the cool breeze.
No sooner do we arrive at the pinnacle of our spiritual ascendancy on Simchas Torah than Shabbos Mevorchim is upon us. We bentch the new month of MarCheshvan on Shabbos Parshas Bereishis and observe Rosh Chodesh on Yom Shlishi and Yom Revi’i (October 13 and 14).
Cheshvan is referred to as mar (bitter) for it is devoid of holidays – albeit it was this month that saw the completion of the first Bais HaMikdash. In stark contrast, the mabul in Noach’s time began in Cheshvan, and the eleventh of this month commemorates one of the saddest events in our history: the tragic death of Rachel Imeinu in the course of giving birth to her second son, Binyamin, the youngest of the twelve tribes. This month is also the start of supplication for rain (in Eretz Yisrael).
And so it would seem that the historic happenings during Cheshvan fluctuate to extremes – from exultation to misfortune. In the realm of mysticism, a glimpse into the teachings of the Sefer Yetzirah offers some clarification. Each month of the Jewish year is associated with a letter of the Lashon Hakodesh. The holy letter ascribed to Cheshvan is Nun, with the numerical value of fifty – corresponding to the fifty gates of impurity or, conversely, to the fifty gates of holiness.
More intriguing: the human organ that correlates with the month of Cheshvan is the nose, by which we acquire our life-giving oxygen, and by which Hashem breathes life into us.
The word neshama begins with the letter Nun. Our neshamos have just experienced a spiritual cleansing and uplifting (during the Yamim Noraim), thus infusing us with that boost we can use to help us navigate our way during the gloom of Cheshvan. The choice, of course, as to the direction we take is up to each of us…
Rachel Imeinu named her first son Yosef, meaning to increase, expressing her desire for Hashem to grant her another son. She called her second Ben-Oni, son of my sorrow, as her life was ebbing away, while Yaakov named him Binyamin – not wishing to be continuously reminded of his despair at having lost his beloved wife at the time of Binyamin’s birth. The name Binyamin, son of the right, is also a reference to the place of his birth (Eretz Canaan, south of Paddan Aram).
Needless to say, multiple lessons are weaned from our matriarchs. After Leah had already given birth to six sons, she begged Hashem to allot at least two of the twelve tribes to Rachel. (Leah had six, Zilpah her maidservant had two and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, had also given birth to two. Leah fretted that her sister would suffer humiliation if she gave birth to only one of the twelve tribes.)
Yosef was the only one of the twelve sons born without a female twin. When Rachel’s acute labor pain made her believe that she was giving birth to a female, Rachel’s midwife had to assure her that she was having a boy, even as twin girls preceded the male child (Binyamin).