As November sets in so does the Hebrew month of Heshvan. Traditionally, this month is referred to as mar Heshvan, or bitter Heshvan, due to it being the only Hebrew month without any special day. But now scholars believe that the term mar was always a part of the original Akkadian name and has nothing to do with the lack of holidays in the month. If this is true, then everything I learned and have subsequently taught about this Hebrew month is incorrect. The likelihood is that the name is a combination of both the Akkadian roots and of the lack of holidays, and any attempt to discover what came first is a chicken and egg conversation without an ultimate resolution.
However, I do want to take issue with one aspect of the name of this month. To me, there is nothing bitter about a month without Jewish holidays. The Jewish holidays are a special time. A time for family and friends, and a time when we can re-calibrate our lives no matter how far off track we have traveled. But their great meaning and uniqueness is explicitly borne out by the fact they don’t occur that often. We cherish the Passover Seder experience precisely because we wait all year for it to happen. We yearn for Shabbat due to the labor of the six days leading into her holy time and space.
Joyous time like our holiday celebrations is splendid, but life is lived in the mundane far more often than in the special. I love standing under the Chuppah with a wedding couple and watching their joy during that magnificent moment. Yet I always remind them that life is not like your wedding day. That ultimately, their relationship will work because of how they navigate the mundane of the every day, and not how they celebrate the joyous times.
In truth, a month like Heshvan, reminds us to celebrate every day, especially those days that might be devoid of any great zenith, or any difficult nadir. Judaism gives us a vehicle to do this through blessings. For example, when we say ha-motzi, the blessing over the bread, we celebrate both the process of how bread is made, and the fact that we have bread to eat. When we say a blessing after going to the bathroom, we are in touch with how our physical body works. Blessings bring awareness and holiness to the mundane, which we would largely ignore if every day was a special holiday. So, the next time you are feeling ordinary or uninspired, try to offer a blessing; it just might help. I look forward to celebrating the every-day together with you during the month of Heshvan.