Monday, October 19, 2009

The Month of Cheshvan

Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Cheshvan, which is the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar. (The count of the months begins with Nisan.)

During the month of Cheshvan, the Jews celebrate...well, actually nothing. The uniqueness of the month of Cheshvan is that it has no festivals, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day. In fact, because of its lack of holidays, Cheshvan is often referred to as MarCheshvan; Mar means bitter.

The eighth month was not always called Cheshvan, which is a word most probably of Babylonian origin (as are many of the names of the months). When mentioned in Biblical sources it is referred to either as “the eighth month” or Bul (see I Kings 6:38), a word closely related to the Hebrew word mabul, meaning flood.

According to tradition, the 17th of Cheshvan was the start of the great flood that took place in the time of Noah and destroyed the world. Just over a year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family discovered that the waters of the flood had completely receded.

The kabbalists also believe that Cheshvan is the month in which the Messiah will arrive. However, in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a, Rabbi Zeera tries to discourage such calculations by quoting an earlier teaching that “Three things come from nowhere: Moshiach (the Messiah), a found article and [the bite of] a scorpion.” The mention of the scorpion is interesting because Cheshvan is associated with the zodiacal sign of the scorpion. (The Jewish concept of constellations/zodiac will be discussed in a future Treat.)

The month of Cheshvan begins today and continues through November 17th.

1 comment:

Drew Kaplan said...

You wrote that "Cheshvan is often referred to as MarCheshvan", although the month is actually called Marheshvan and nicknamed 'heshvan/cheshvan'.