This month's essay is by Adina Ellis
Noach and his family entered the tevah (ark) on the 17th of Cheshvan and exited just over one year later, on the 27th day of Cheshvan (see Rashi on Bereishit 7:11, 8:5, 13-14 based on the opinion of R’ Eliezer in Rosh Hashana 11b and Seder Olam). A year long pause in time, a year of hallowed space amidst a world of chaos. Cheshvan is intrinsically linked with this entering and exiting to and from another dimension.
While sometimes referred to as a bitter month (Mar-Cheshvan) because of the dearth of holidays (Rav Eliyahu Kitov, The Book of Our Heritage), Cheshvan can be seen conversely, as a unique opportunity to focus on the beauty and significance of the weekly celebration of Shabbat. Shabbat is a breathing space, a block of God given time when we disconnect from the raging sea of information, to-do lists, and external pressures, and instead turn inward. The holy Shabbat is warmly welcomed and is the source of tremendous blessing – לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה כִּי הִיא מְקור הַבְּרָכָה (HaRav Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz). The Netivot Shalom explains that Shabbat Kodesh is like a “tevat Noach,” a sanctified space which protects us from the turbulent work week.
As the small family of Noach — along with chosen animals — lived in the ark together for a year, it seems they experienced an extended Shabbat-like reality. “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man). The 365 days in the ark were a break from the command to “fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” (Bereishit 1:28). As opposed to domination and supremacy, harmony and selflessness prevailed.
Cheshvan is a month of gathering in, a respite “after the chagim” where we re-align ourselves with a consistent schedule of a work-week and Shabbat. By centering ourselves through Shabbat we affirm principles of emunah, namely acknowledging Hashem as the Creator of the world, who is actively involved in our lives (as evidenced by Yetziat Mitzrayim, mentioned in kiddush).
But it is more than that. As Ahad Ha’am, the founder of cultural Zionism, once said “more than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” He elucidates the importance of Shabbat rejuvenating our spiritual lives on a weekly basis. If during the six days of where we “live under the tyranny of things in space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time” (AJ Heschel, ibd).
Just as the tevah was both the refuge and salvation for mankind in the time of Noach, Shabbat is our buoy. It is our time to reinvigorate our emunah, cultivate our relationship with our Creator and tune into our neshama. Noach entered and exited from the tevah in Cheshvan. For us, Shabbat is our tevah in time, and every week it sweetly beckons.
Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies has been at the cutting edge of Torah learning for women since it was established in 1988.