The Fragrance of Cheshvan
R. Eliezer Kwass
Tishrei and Cheshvan stand next to each other in the calendar, but seem to be as far apart as two months can be. Tishrei is full of holidays, joy, and intensity; Cheshvan does not even have one minor holiday. Experiencing their juxtaposition feels like a spiritual roller- coaster ride. Tishrei puts us on a high – with Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah; with the Shofar, the Lulav and Etrog, and the Sukka; with introspection, prayer, excitement, and joy. Then comes Cheshvan with its apparent vacuum. Cheshvan seems like the vacant lot left after the amusement park has been taken apart and packed away at the end of summer.
How do we deal with the vacuum left after the Chagim? What is the special avoda (service of Hashem) of Cheshvan? Two sources give us some insights.
Smell and Da’at
1. Rav Tzadok Hakohen zt”l of Lublin (Divrei Sofrim – Likutei Amarim) brings down a passage from the Kabbalistic Sefer Yetzira. It connects all of the months to different aspects of a person. Cheshvan is connected with the sense of smell.
2. The Maor Vashemesh (Parshat Shemini) says that the month of Cheshvan is associated with the Sefira of Da’at.
What is the connection between smell and Cheshvan? What is the meaning of Da’at (usually translated as knowledge)? What do these two sources teach us about the avoda of Cheshvan?
Says Rav Tzaddok, during the month of Tishrei we taste of the great Divine lights. In Cheshvan, even though the taste is gone, the fragrance still remains. Cheshvan allows us to hold on to the remnants of the holidays. Cheshvan is not a vacuum left after the holidays, but a vessel with which we can hold onto them. Just as the fragrance of our etrog remains, the highs of Tishrei do not have to disappear but can stay with us during Cheshvan.
Cultivating Da’at is the key to hold on to the Chagim, teaches the Maor Vashemesh. The Shem Mishmuel (on Parshat Eikev, p. 77) explains that Da’at is neither wisdom nor a character trait; rather, it is the connection between them. Someone with Da’at has so internalized his mind experiences – wisdom, understanding, spirituality – that they translate into his feelings, his character, and his actions. Someone without Da’at is like, says the Shem Mishmuel, someone studying the political life of some far away country; he thinks about it in a detached way for it does not affect him.
Da’at is knowledge and spirituality with connectedness. Da’at is the challenge of Cheshvan, taking the highs of Tishrei – the resolutions of the days of Teshuva, the intensity of Rosh Hashana, the joy of sitting in the Sukka and dancing with the Torah, the conviction with which we scream out Hashem Hu Haelokim at the end of Yom Kippur – and translating them into normal daily life. We live Cheshvan with a picture of Tishrei constantly in our minds. The energy of the holidays stays with us and charges Cheshvan as well as the rest of the year.
The Load of the Moadim
G-d provides Divine help. The Rav of the Shul I davened in on Shabbat Bereishit explained the Yom Tov prayer, “Vehasieinu Hashem Elokeinu et birkat moadekha” as “Load us, Hashem our G-d, with the blessing of the holidays” (reading the word vehasieinu as the hifil of laseit, to carry a load). We pray to G-d to be able to take away the blessings of the holidays and use them throughout Cheshvan and rest of the year.