Last week was the first in over a month that we went from Shabbat to Shabbat without another holiday on the Jewish calendar. As much as I cherish Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, the cycle of holy days can be tiring.
Today is the beginning of the month of Cheshvan. There are no holidays this month on the Jewish calendar, aside from Shabbat. Because of that, it’s been called Mar Cheshvan, the bitter month.
But in the Hasidic tradition, it’s called Ram Cheshvan, the month of elevation, of possibilities. I love that idea. It provides spaciousness, time to reflect on the introspection of Rosh Hashanah, the repentance of Yom Kippur, the joy of Simchat Torah, and the changes we vowed to make this year.
Cheshvan is also called the “empty month.” This is meant as a pejorative, but I like to turn it around and think about its very emptiness as a positive. Cheshvan holds the potential for what will be; it is holding a space for something in the future. That is the secret behind tzimtzum, the process by which God contracted God’s-self in order to create, bereshit, “when beginning.”
Before creation, what was? Just God. Which means that God was everywhere and everything, with no room for anything else. By the act of tzimtzum, contracting and pulling back, God created space that could be populated with heaven and earth, stars and moon, animals and people. In other words, God created potential.
We too have potential. We can fill our lives with bitterness, or with elevation. We can be sad about what isn’t, or we can be hopeful about what could be. My tradition teaches us that it is incumbent upon us to fill potentiality with reality, to heal rather than destroy.
The choice is ours. We can use months like Cheshvan to fill them with whatever we want. May we remember that the work of God is in our hands, and fill the coming month with meaning and purpose.