After the intensity of last month’s Jewish holidays, it’s a relief to return to a normal routine. This month on the Jewish calendar has no holidays, aside from Shabbat.
For me, the absence of holidays is a blessing, and not just because my work life is easier (although it is). Cheshvan is called the month of elevation, of possibilities. It’s also called Bitter Cheshvan because of the dearth of holidays, but every artist, every writer, every musician and every dreamer knows that a blank canvas can be both terrifying and beckoning. It just depends on your point of view.
If you open to the possibilities that a blank calendar offers, you can find room for spaciousness and creativity, time to reflect on the intensity of Rosh Hashanah, the repentance of Yom Kippur, the impermanence of the Succah, the joy of Simchat Torah.
But a “normal routine”? Not possible in the midst of a global pandemic and a tumultuous election season filled with hatred and the threat of violence.
The routine of weekly Shabbat readings continues however, this week with the story of Noah. I know a Jewish educator who is telling her students that their homes have become like Noah’s ark; havens in which they, their families, and their pets shelter from covid. That’s sweet, but after eight months, it is wearing thin.
One day this week nearly 1,000 Americans died from covid. I am angry at those who refuse to follow the simple steps of staying away from large gatherings, wearing masks, and socially distancing from one another. I think about all of the people who can’t protect themselves, in contrast to those who won’t, and I begin to despair.
Paul Krugman wrote this week, “Liberty doesn’t mean freedom to infect other people… Refusing to wear a face covering during a pandemic, or insisting on mingling indoors with large groups, isn’t like following the church of your choice. It’s more like dumping raw sewage into a reservoir that supplies other people’s drinking water.”
This year as I read the story of Noah’s ark and the flood, I can’t help but worry. Is my ark waterproof? What about my synagogue? Have we created an ark that can carry our community through this storm?
I hope so. I know that the on-line solution is imperfect, that services and classes on Zoom aren’t ideal. I worry about the people who say they can’t have a spiritual experience sitting in front of a computer.
But I remind myself that this month, this month of elevation, holds the potential for growth and change. It is full of possibilities, and yes, possibilities that are both positive and negative, because an election is coming which, regardless of the outcome, will present enormous challenges to our society.
Each of us has potential. We have the potential to be the architects of our own existence. We can be artists and dancers and musicians and gardeners, or we can sit and wait for the pandemic to end, for a new president to solve our nation’s woes.
We have the potential to do the inner work that enables us to find a spiritual experience, even in front of a computer. We can be sad about what isn’t, or we can be hopeful about what might be, and we can create new realities.
The Jewish tradition teaches that it is incumbent upon us to fill potentiality with reality, to heal rather than destroy. The choice is ours. May we remember that the work of God is in our hands, and fill this month and those that follow with meaning and purpose.