All summer long, I was annoyed because an upstairs neighbor’s air conditioner was dripping profusely on mine. Besides the noise it made, I was afraid it would harm my air conditioner. I spoke to neighbors, my son posted in the building’s WhatsApp group, but no one claimed responsibility and it kept dripping, pooling water on my appliance. Then I noticed something: the birds were using the puddle as a birdbath and fountain. In the oppressive heat of an Israeli August, the birds were getting some relief from my neighbor’s drip, and I was getting a mitzvah.
We have spent the better part of two months making amends, striving for closeness with Hashem and each other, attempting growth, storming the Heavens and stretching ourselves (to reach the schach if not the stars). Now Cheshvan is upon us and we strive to maintain the “high” of the High Holidays, the kedusha and the simcha that comes with Sukkot. Yet, Cheshvan is a month void of inspiration – the nights are getting longer, the days cooler, which effects our resolutions.
I say that in Cheshvan we should work on the exact opposite of what we worked on during Elul and Tishrei. Not, God forbid, to rest on our laurels or sabotage our efforts, but to, perhaps, loosen the reins a bit, release the tension and work on mitzvot that are no less important: acceptance of ourselves and others, joy and gratitude even for our imperfect selves, relationships and situations, and let our cortisol levels stabilize a bit.
It’s true that as a people, we are meant to always be striving, to always be working – man, we are taught (Iyov 5:7), was born to toil, to continually serve Hashem by perfecting himself, giving to others… and it’s exhausting. Especially for type A people who don’t need any more exhortations to work and improve. Thus, perhaps we need to relent just a bit, to stop chasing after.
In an interesting reminder about the Source of our sustenance, for Rosh Hashanah, my boss gave me a holiday bonus of NIS 300. I gave tzedakkah. Then my computer needed a new part. It was erev Shabbat before erev Chag and I didn’t want to be stuck without a computer. My computer technician made a special trip and brought me the part. It cost me NIS 250. End of holiday bonus.
We are called Yehudim as our essence is one of giving thanks. I once saw a great magnet on a friend’s fridge. It said “What you’re complaining about, other people are praying for.” You look in the mirror and you’re not 25 anymore. You’ve gained weight (all in the wrong places) and your bounce has deflated – but you’re alive. There are young, thin people battling illness. By all means go for a jog and buy face cream, but be grateful for your life. So your son will never be the illui of his yeshiva and your daughter isn’t as beautiful as you were at her age and she’s rebelling – there are people chalishing for children as imperfect as yours. Be like Chana and say for “This child I prayed.” And mean it. Whether it’s your weight, your bank account, your job, your health or your difficult relationships, don’t let it be an arena for frustration or contention. Just accept and give thanks.
As Sukkot approached, I searched for the cloth “walls” of my sukkah. What I found were a bunch of summer clothes I had forgotten about. All summer I had felt like I didn’t have enough clothes, but I did. I just wasn’t aware of it. That’s true of a lot of things we think we don’t have.
And sometimes, we have to accept that some things are not going to happen, at least not immediately. In that area our best role model is Moshe Rabbeinu, who despite his many prayers was denied the privilege of entering Eretz Yisrael.
We are not meant to stop praying or striving for our ideal or idyllic life. But if every once in a while we took a break and said “I accept, I am grateful and I will give thanks and rejoice just like I did on Sukkot when I lived in a hut and it rained on my food (and my kids decorations),” our lives would be better.
If for only a month in our imperfect lives, we let down our defenses and eased away from our expectations; if just for a month we focused on the joyful moments, the blessings, and the good, we would be crowning Hashem King through Cheshvan as well, simply by accepting His will. And our lives would be so much easier and lighter.
Let Cheshvan be a month of contemplation and compassion, acceptance, joy and gratitude for all the blessings inherent in having made it through another Tishrei.