Bitter or Better?

This week, at the end of the week, we will begin the Hebrew month known as חשון (Cheshvan), or more correctly, מרחשון (MarCheshvan). One of the reasons for the prefix added to the name of this month is that it means “bitter.” The “bitterness” stems from the fact that it is the ONLY Hebrew month that contains no celebrations, holidays, commemorations of historic events, etc. The LACK of celebration or commemoration leaves us with a  bitter/sad feeling.

And yet, I think that we can get a very different lesson from this two-letter prefix.

We have just concluded a 40-day process that began with Rosh Chodesh Elul and culminated with Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. At the conclusion, many people feel a sense of depression or sadness as the holiday “season” ebbs away and slips through their fingers. All the excitement, the joy, the challenge, the uplifting moments…all comes to a halt with Havdalla after Shemini Atzeret. And that, too, can lead a person to the sense of “מר” or bitterness.

However, there is another option. The Talmud tells us that the time it takes a fetus to form from the stage of blastocyst to embryo to fetus is forty days, known as the time period of יצירת הוולד in Hebrew. At the conclusion of this past forty-day-period, we emerge, in some respects, as a new being or new entity–hopefully. During the Yamim Noraim, we may have made some changes; we may have done some introspection and we may have decided to take those changes and make them permanent.

And now, as we emerge as that new person, we take the month of MarCheshvan and use it as a form of a “proving ground.” Were we indeed serious about these changes and do we plan to truly stick with them and seek further self-improvement? Hashem gave us a gift after this forty-day time period in which there are no other things to take our minds off of our newfound goals. There is no sukka to build; no Pesach cleaning; no other rituals upon which to focus in MarCheshvan. Rather, the focus is on ourselves and our lives and the opportunity to enable us to take our potential and bring it to fruition.

When we do that, when we truly take the lessons of the past forty days and put them into practice, we are able to change things and turn them around. When we turn around the word מר-חשון we can see the word רם-חשון. The word רם means “high” or “lofty.” We are able to take a month which, on the surface may seem מר or bitter and turn it around and elevate ourselves and strive for new heights and make it into the month of רם-חשון.

May we all merit the ability to make the necessary changes in all areas of our lives and may we merit changing things from מר to רם …from bitter to lofty.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.