Finding the Joy in a Dark Month

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

The Jewish calendar can be funny sometimes. During the month of Tishrei (which almost exactly lined up with October this year), we had the holidays of Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Festival of Booths), Shemini Atzeret (an extra day of celebration), and Simchat Torah (Celebration of the Torah). These are some of the most meaningful, powerful, and spiritually draining holidays of the year and some of the most joyful. We basically spent a month reflecting and growing as well as eating and celebrating with friends and family members.

And then the calendar turned to Cheshvan on October 30 and nothing. The month of Cheshvan is the only month in the Jewish calendar with no holidays or other special days built into it, so it is sometimes referred to as “Marcheshvan” or “bitter” Cheshvan. On top of this, Cheshvan can be a challenging month because it is during this time that the days become shorter, and darkness comes a lot earlier, and we often experience colder weather as well. The month, then, can feel long and unfulfilling.

Instead of thinking of this month as bitter, however, it can also be an opportunity for us to consider how we can add our own light, brightness, and joy. It can be a time when we think creatively about adding our own purpose and finding our own ways to connect with each other and with our community without the guidelines and frameworks of the Tishrei holidays. It can be a time when we take initiative for creating our own joy and focus on what’s important to us in a meaningful way.

Years ago, I studied with a teacher who started a #NoMarInThisCheshvan campaign (no bitterness in this month). She encouraged us to do a good deed each day during the month to add our own light. I loved this because it gave us all a collective purpose to do good in the world in a similar way that the holidays brought people together for a collective purpose.

This can be an important learning opportunity for our kids. Lots of kids are good as doing good and spreading light when they have to or when they are told to do so, but what about in a less structured way? What about the small things that are often discounted? What about simply being grateful for what we have? The month of Cheshvan can be a valuable teaching time, then, giving space to explore these and other questions as a family.

Try taking the “mar” out of your Cheshvan with one or more of these ideas:

  • Focus on gratitude - Each night during dinner, invite everyone to share one thing for which they are thankful.

  • Complement others - Make it a goal to offer a genuine compliment to someone else (friend or stranger) each day.

  • Do good together - Find a social action project (park clean up, family service say, etc) to complete as a family.

  • Open your home - Invite someone new to your house for a meal each week, whether it be an elderly couple, a family new to the neighborhood, or someone you’d just like to get to know better.

  • Care packages - Create care packages for people in the street that include a bottle of water, wipes, snacks, and a few dollars and distribute to those standing on the corner.

  • Pursue a passion - Invite each member of your family to choose an interest to teach the rest of the family; give time to research and prepare and then set aside additional time to learn about each other’s passions.

  • Get your kids involved - Share that you want to spend a few weeks focusing on adding happiness to the world and ask your kids for suggestions as to how to do that individually and/or as a family.

While seemingly-simple, each of these serves to add a bit of light during what could be a dark month and keep that holiday spirit alive through the shortened days, the changing winter, and the gap until Chanukah. Additionally, they give us an opportunity to bring a bit of that joy, not just to ourselves, but to those around us as well, showing that Cheshvan can, actually, be the sweetest month of them all.

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