The Pause Between the Notes

Posted on October 21, 2020

by Hazzan Barbara Barnett

I love the Jewish calendar. I really do. Holidays and other observances and rituals that mark time one month after the other. Elul with its reflectiveness, preparing us for the High Holidays, the daily blast of the shofar, reminding us to center down, to look inward at how we might be better versions of ourselves in the new year to come. 

Then, more suddenly than it probably should have been, Tishrei (and what it Tishrei it was—a year like none other that I can recall, can you?). The swirl of holidays: the introspection of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur followed by the beauty, fragrance and ritual of Sukkot and the celebration at Simchat Torah as we complete the Torah and start it once again.

Days later, we settle into a new month entirely, both in name and attitude: Heshvan—or as it is often called, Marcheshvan. Throughout the Mishna and Talmud, the month is called Marcheshvan, but other classical texts refer to the month as Cheshvan. Why the discrepancy? What could it mean? Why the “mar?”

One explanation (though not the only one, by far) is that “mar” in Hebrew translates to “bitterness,” and of all the months in the Jewish calendar, Cheshvan is the one devoid of holidays, and hence, “bitter.” Especially when you compare it to Tishrei and the coming month of Kislev (with Chanukah), Cheshvan seems curiously quiet and even empty. But maybe that’s by design.

A pause between the notes, a pause in time, a moment to absorb Tishrei, to take a moment, to appreciate the quiet, and in our part of the world, the spectacular autumn beauty that surrounds us as G-d’s creation.

Bitter Cheshvan? Not to me? For it is between the pauses in the notes where the beauty, the art, resides.