Women studying at Matan
Women studying at MatanGilad Mor

We are now entering a unique month in the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. We are leaving the month of Tishrei, pulsated by the Yomim Noraim (High Holy Days) and Zman Simchatenu (Sukkot). It was a month dominated by the mazal of the Libra – the scales. We weigh and our deeds are weighed. It was a stark contrast between awe and love, severity and joy.

The 'head' of the year in many ways brought us to one of the main purposes and practices of our existence – the choice of perspective. For, after Adam Harishon’s sin, we find ourselves in a colorful, and at the same time black and white world – a world that has good and bad, (tov v’rah), happiness and sorrow, connection and disconnection. I believe it is with this contradictory introduction to the year that we are given our first test, nisayon, entering Cheshvan.

The month is formally known as Mar Cheshvan – מר meaning bitter, as it is a month without any official holidays. But if we reverse the letters of מר, we arrive at רם – the root letters of exaltation. So is it a bitter month or is it an exalted month? That is the choice, the journey of Cheshvan, and ultimately the journey of life.

To elucidate this idea – we bring to our attention the flood in Parshat Noach. In fact, the biblical name of the month of Cheshvan is בול, from מבול – “flood,” which began in Cheshvan on the 17th day, as it says: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on this day, all the springs of the great deep were split, and the windows of the heavens opened up.” Interestingly, the gematria of טוב is 17. Was the flood “good” or “bad?”

Cheshvan is also the month that we start praying for rain in Israel – “v’tein tal u’matar livracha.” Why would we pray for something that has the potential to bring destruction, as we see with the rain that began to fall at the start of the flood? Additionally, with the brilliance of the Hebrew language, we can draw the connection between מטר and מטרה – rain and the Hebrew word for “goal.”

What is the connection between prayer and rain, and why is it our goal? And secondly, what does this all have to do with our transition from Tishrei to Cheshvan?

On the second day of creation, we learn:…And God made the expanse and it separated between the water that was below the expanse and the water that was above the expanse, and it was so.” Curiously, however, we see that the second day is the only day that Hashem does not reflect that “it was good.” On this point, Rashi explains, “Now why does it not say, “that it was good” on the second day? Because the work involving the water was not completed until the third day, although He commenced it on the second day, and an unfinished thing is not in its fullness and its goodness; and on the third day, when He completed the work involving the water and He commenced and completed another work, He repeated therein “that it was good” twice (sic): once for the completion of the work of the second day and once for the completion of the work of that [third] day.”

When Hashem separated the upper waters from the lower waters, He created something that He did not consider to be “good” – incompleteness – disconnection. He created a separation between the Heavens and the Earth. While we learn that on the third day, he planted vegetation on the land, Rashi later elucidates that there was still a level of incompleteness, which was only rectified through Adam HaRishon’s prayer. The first prayer we ever learn about, non-coincidentally, is for rain. In Bereshit 2:5, Rashi helps us to understand the answer. He says, “Because there was no man to work the soil, and no one recognized the benefit of rain, but when man came and understood that they were essential to the world, he prayed for them, and they fell, and the trees and the herbs sprouted.”

Herein lies a deep truth of the connection between prayer and rain. On the second day, a disconnection was introduced to the world. It was not good in Hashem’s eyes. Here, it is clarified. What can rectify this incompletion? Prayer and rain. For, it is with prayer that the Earth reaches up to hug the Heavens, and it is with rain that the Heavens come down to kiss the Earth, completing the cycle of connection.

Prayer is our spiritual sustenance and rain is the source of our physical sustenance. Tefillah and rain (מטר) are the ultimate goal (מטרה) of our lives in that they form the basis of our relationship with Hashem – so powerful that they can even reconnect the upper and lower waters that Hashem separated, and so extraordinary that they are the root of our existence on Earth and attachment to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

The world was destroyed with the overpowerment of rain, yet it also led us to an eternal promise, that the world will never be destroyed again. The flood wiped out a generation, yet it also purified the Earth from sin. So, was the flood good or bad? Is Cheshvan מר or רם?

The abrupt contrast in connection with Hashem between the months of Tishrei and Cheshvan illuminates for us our avodah. We davened all month long for Hashem’s mercy and for good decrees… But we constantly live with the inner tension of connection and disconnections. Beginning in Cheshvan, as our decrees begin to unfold, life may seem “bad” and will test us to turn away from Hashem. It is now, as we transition back into our “real” lives and our daily routines that we remember that we have the choice of perspective..

We remember that the most important tool going into the holidays is that we want to connect. Chagim or not, the goal of life is to have a relationship with God. Just as our tefillah will connect us back to Hashem, the rain will connect Hashem to us, and therefore turn what appears to be a bitter month, into a truly exalted period of time.

Meirav Blumenthal,the author of this essay, is currently studying in the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute. She is also studying to be a tour guide and is looking forward to what her career will bring with her newfound Tanakh knowledge from Eshkolot. Meirav grew up in Livingston NJ, made Aliyah 7 years ago, and is currently living in Nachlaot. She has been involved in educational roles in Meor and Birthright.

The Edythe Benjamin חיה בת שלמה, beloved mother of Barbara Hanus, Rosh Chodesh Essay