Judaism: Winter Tensions, Winter Storms
During the months of Elul and Tishrei, much of the Jewish world, both public and private, is on hold. Important decisions, as well as matters that in retrospect are now seen as perhaps less important, were postponed. “Call me after the holidays,” has been this rabbi’s mantra to requests made of him during this time period. But now it is well after the holidays and the crunch of the past postponements and procrastinations have descended in full force.
In my rabbinic career I have found that the month after the holidays of Tishrei to be the most dangerous time for family relations, partnership and monetary issues, communal disagreements and personal piques. It is as though the cover has been removed from the pressure cooker of the months of Elul and Tishrei, the time of personal introspection and attempted spiritual devotion.
All of the contents of that personal and emotional cauldron now explode publicly and privately, usually to the detriment of all concerned. It is very difficult to carry over the piety and awe of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and the joy of Succot into the month of Mar Cheshvan. Even though the “Mar” in Mar Cheshvan refers to the water of the rains of the month (hopefully), it also is the Hebrew word for bitterness.
For some reason this month seems always to bring with it an element of sour behavior and bitter feelings to many and this is reflected in the public and private aspects of family and society. If somehow we are truly made aware of this danger and this prevailing post-holiday tension then perhaps we can take steps to prevent it from occurring and damaging all concerned.
Part of the tension now released upon us is the call for elections here in Israel, which are to take place in a few short months. Elections are rarely uplifting and inspiring events. The worst side of our politicians is usually in full display during electoral campaigns. Viciousness replaces civility, and truth and probity are rarely visible. The American elections are also on our minds.
Though elections gave been part of Jewish life for the past few centuries, the Torah apparently has made no provision for such a method of empowering Jewish leadership. The Torah’s system of governing apparently is monarchial, prophet-driven and without spin-doctors and pollsters.
Whether this guaranteed better leadership than our current electoral methods is certainly a debatable point. But it probably was less tension-laden than the current method of campaigning and pandering for votes, of wild promises that cannot be fulfilled, and mudslinging of political opponents that tarnishes our entire society.
Since I have no substitute system to advance for our present day election system I must bow to the wisdom of Winston Churchill’s famous quip that “democracy is a terrible form of societal governance but it is far better than any other form that humankind has created so far.” But it certainly increases our post-holiday tensions and extends this worrisome period for another few months. Current day elections are very costly affairs both financially and emotionally. Coming on the heels of the holidays, they are doubly stressful and tension filled.
The onset of winter with its short days, early darkness, and rainy periods also leads to emotional and psychological difficulties to those who are vulnerable to such moods and temperaments. Just as it is important for all of us to receive an anti-flu injection for the forthcoming winter season, so is it essential that we inject purpose and a sense of accomplishment and self-worth into ourselves.
Feeling good about one’s self is the key to good mental health and spiritual growth. Confidence in consolidating what we have somehow achieved during the holidays of Tishrei can lighten the load of winter that is imposed upon us. Mar Cheshvan has some bitterness to it because it possesses no holiday or commemoration within its days. It is the only month of the Jewish calendar that is so devoid of special holiday celebrations.
Only the carryover of the exultation and spirit of the holidays of Tishrei can give strength to the otherwise mundane days of Mar Cheshvan. That is what King David in Psalms prayed for when he said “Bind the holiday (sacrifice) to the corners of the altar with ropes.” Our ropes are those of memory and observance, resolve and commitment. Only by binding the Tishrei holidays to our current everyday living, by overcoming the post-holiday tensions that so afflict us and by maintaining good spirit and healthy Jewish values are we guaranteed a healthy, happy and productive winter season.