Cheshvan: The Pause Between the Notes

Posted on October 6, 2021

By Hazzan Barbara Barnett

Chodesh Tov, everyone. Today is the second day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh—the beginning of the Hebrew month Cheshvan. Sandwiched between the marathon-like hustle and bustle of Tishrei with a full month of holidays and festivals and Kislev during which we celebrate Chanukah, Cheshvan provides a pause of sorts in the year. A transition point, a liminal space in time. It is neither fall nor winter; many of the leaves are still green, the weather is still mostly warm enough for shirt sleeves (particularly this year). We are still in Daylight Savings Time, about to thrust into the darkest part of the seasonal calendar in a few short weeks.

Although in a more micro-sense, this pause in time reminds me of a calendrical occurrence set by the Torah, the shmitta year. We only just entered a shmitta year on Rosh Hashana. The shmitta year is (among other things) essentially a Shabbat for the land—a year in which we are commanded to let the land lie fallow, not to harvest and to leave the land to rest, recover, recuperate.

It’s a lesson in environmental protection thousands of years old, still relevant today in ways way beyond harvests and crops and field.

But it’s also a lesson much more personal to our own lives in the 21st Century with its non-stop news cycles, social media gone insane, too much to fill each and every hour we’re not sleeping (and in those when we should be but cannot.)

Shmitta is breathing space writ large. A pause for the entire nation: a year of peace and quiet for all. The way it is written in the Torah, there is no private property, no oppression, no privilege, no entitlement. A reset and reboot.

We get a more intimate, smaller version of this each week as we hit pause—get off the treadmill—for Shabbat, however we observe it. A time to shake off ordinary weekday life and witness the extraordinary.

Which brings me back to Cheshvan. Cheshvan, with its absence of holidays and observances, is, in my opinion, intentional. A month of intense introspection, self-examination, atonement and then the energetic burst of celebration—it’s a lot to absorb, and to me, Cheshvan is the perfect time—the perfect pause—to absorb all of that. It’s a stop, a pause between the notes. As Jazz legend Miles Davis put it, “In music, silence is more important than sound.”

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

Chodesh Tov!