Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

November this year mostly overlaps with the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. Among Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European descent or who follow the customs of that part of the world) this month contains no holidays other than Shabbat. In the Ethiopian Jewish world this month brings Sigd, a festival symbolizing the acceptance of Torah, which takes place on the 50th day after Yom Kippur.

My background is Ashkenazi. (My mother was born in Prague.) Sigd sounds neat, but I’ve never experienced it myself. For me, Cheshvan is the quiet month.

I love the Days of Awe. I love the taste of apples with honey, the lilt of high holiday nusach (melodic modes) and Torah trope, the call of the shofar, our practices of teshuvah. I love spending a day in prayer, contemplation, and song on Yom Kippur, and the way the day’s spiritual intimacy grows as the evening light fades into Ne’ilah. I love sitting in the sukkah, listening to the rustle of cornstalks overhead and admiring the full Sukkot moon…

…and each year I still breathe a sigh of relief when we make it to Cheshvan. After the big spiritual work (and emotional work and vocal work and energetic work) of the High Holidays and Sukkot, Cheshvan brings a sense of respite. The silence in which the song continues to reverberate. A time to integrate everything that’s come before.

Cheshvan is a time to catch our breath. Like Shabbat, but longer. I love that our festival calendar has periods of respite built in. Jewish sacred time ebbs and flows. Special days come in their appointed seasons, like waves reaching the shore in just the right rhythm — and those waves also always recede. The whole system seems designed to remind us to hold the holidays loosely. To savor each holiday in its time, and then to let it go.
A small group of people walking on a beach at low tide.
We’re entering one of the quiet periods on that calendar. The waves of the big fall holidays (and the small ones, too!) have receded. Have you ever walked across the seafloor in a place where low tide recedes a very long way? There are beauties that can only be seen at low tide — rivulets of water carving temporary riverbeds into the sand, tide pools and razor clams, the pearly insides of empty shells. What are the emotional and spiritual beauties we can only spot now, after the tide of all the fall holidays has drained away?By late November we’ll be entering a secular American festive season of decorative gourds and turkeys. For some of us Thanksgiving brings family time, or perhaps “Friendsgiving.” For some of us it’s a day to feed the hungry. For some of us the day evokes loss, whether personal family loss or the loss of Native life and autonomy in the complicated real story of the Pilgrims. For some of us, Thanksgiving is “just” about a nice harvest meal. And for some of us, it can feel like the kickoff to a mad rush toward the secular new year.

Whatever Thanksgiving evokes for us, may we carry some of Cheshvan’s serene stillness into Thanksgiving — and all that follows.

With blessings of rest to all,

— Rabbi Rachel