Editor’s note: On October 29, 2019, Rabbi Mosbacher wrote a weekly column on how many new cycles the Jews celebrate. Tonight, 4 Tevet, 5780, is also the Gregorian calendar New Year’s Eve, when we will also celebrate. In honor of this day for Jews worldwide, we’re sharing his previously published letter.
October 29, 2019
To the Shaaray Tefila Family,
Happy Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan!
When the sun went down yesterday, it was the start of the new moon, and therefore new Hebrew month of Cheshvan. Cheshvan is technically the eighth month of the Jewish year, even though we celebrated Rosh Hashanah on the first day of the previous Hebrew month Tishrei.
Why is the new year in the seventh month? The short answer could be, “because we are a strange people,” which we kind of are.
The technical answer, for another day, is that Judaism actually has several different “New Year’s.” In Judaism, Nissan 1 (the month when Passover falls) is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar. Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the tithing of animals. Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees (this determines when first fruits can be eaten, etc.). Tishrei 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years.
So here we are in the 8th month, Cheshvan. After the month of Tishrei, with so many holidays (phew, we made it! Hope you found it as meaningful as I did…), Cheshvan has exactly zero holidays other than Shabbat. It’s actually the only month in the Jewish year with no holidays!
For that reason, it is also sometimes known as Marcheshvan, or “bitter Cheshvan” (although for Jewish professionals and synagogue presidents, we might think of it as “sweet Cheshvan!”).
There’s a long stretch of shopping time between now and Chanukah (54 days to be precise!). But I think it’s beautiful that we have this kind of “down time” on the Jewish calendar, for more than shopping purposes.
We have almost eight weeks now to reflect on the joyous intensity of the high holiday season. That’s eight weeks to think about and live into our new year’s resolutions, eight weeks to really try to internalize the messages we each took from our time together, and eight uninterrupted weeks to be grateful for the blessings of community we shared during that time.
I am grateful to our incredible professional staff, and to all of the many many volunteers who made these holidays the most special of my now four high holidays as one of your rabbis.
I pray that this time, this month, this season, is filled with more sweetness than bitterness for you. And though a part of you might feel “shul-ed out,” I certainly hope to see you at services and at any number of the adult education offerings and adult programs you’ll find on offer.
As the leaves change, I hope you’ll turn over a new leaf and check out something at your sacred congregation that you’ve never tried before.
-Rabbi Joel Mosbacher