This week we leave the action-packed month of Tishrei and we enter into what is seemingly the dead-beat, boring month of MarCheshvan. The month itself has the word Mar in it, a word that means bitter; for in contrast to the exciting month of Tishrei, MarCheshvan seems to leave a bad taste in our mouths. MarCheshvan is described in Tanach as the Yerach Bul, the Month of Decay, a fitting description seeing as this is the month where the trees begin to rot, the fields are empty, and the potential to fall in spirituality becomes a very real threat due to the lack of Chagim.
The Torah tells us that it is in this month that the destructive waters of the Mabul – the flood – began to cleanse the world. Rashi says that the word Mabul means She’Bila Es HaKol - it decayed everything. This is where the term Mabul itself comes from. Mabul is comprised of the letters which spell out the letter Mem, and the word Bul. Mem has the numerical value of forty, and we’ve already defined Bul to be the month of Cheshvan, where things rot. Forty days of rain starting in the month of Cheshvan.
All in all, through this lens, Cheshvan comes with negative themes.
But we can see Cheshvan with different eyes. In the eyes of Chazal, MarCheshvan is the make-it-or-break-it month. It’s the time where we see if what we accomplished in Elul and Tishrei was for real. In the words of Rav Hutner Zatza’l, MarCheshvan is where the crutches come off, and Hashem sees if we can do it on our own.
The Bluzhiver Rebbe (The grandson of the holy Bnei Yissachar and great-great-grandson of the renown Noam Elimelech) in his Tzvi LaTzadik said that the letters that make up ‘MarCheshvan’ can be rearranged to spell out the term ‘Roshem Nun Ches’ – “The Mark of the Nun Ches.”
The mark of the Nun Ches has two possible meanings. First, the numerical value of Nun Ches is fifty-eight, the amount of days in Elul and Tishrei. MarCheshvan is where we see if the fifty-eight days of growth had a lasting impression on our lives.
The letters Nun Ches also spell Noach, the main character of this week’s Parsha. Parshas Noach is the Parsha of this month, for it is always the first Parsha that we read. Roshem Nun Ches also means that MarCheshvan is the month where we need to take head from the lesson of Noach.
This is allegorical understanding of the beginning of our Parsha. Eileh Toldos Noach – These are the offspring of Noach. The simple meaning is that the things that the verse will list are the products of Noach. But another reading could be that Parshas Noach, the headline of Chodesh Cheshvan, it is the product of the Nun Ches, the fifty-eight days of Elul and Tishrei. Eileh Toldos Noach – The energy of MarCheshvan has to be just as high as it was just a few days ago.
After Adam HaRishon sins, the world falls into a downward spiral. For ten consecutive generations things get worse and worse until finally Hashem decides to clean house, wipe everything off the face of the earth and start again with Noach.
In this sense, Noach is very much the second Adam HaRishon. He is the one who Hashem decided to start off humanity with – albeit for the second time.
Hashem says to Noach, “Bo El HaTeiva.” It’s time to get inside the ark. The waters begin to fall, and as we explained above, they did so; fittingly in the month of Cheshvan. For the next full year Noach doesn’t see the outside world. He lives an existence that sounds reminiscent of the days of Mashiach. The animals get along. The laws of nature seem to bend. And even as the world outside is shattered, inside the Teiva, life is good.
And finally Hashem sends forth the new command – also in the month of Cheshvan, “Tzei Min HaTeiva”, it’s time to go back out into the world.
Imagine Noach’s scenario for a moment. Reluctantly he leaves the Teiva. What does he see? No vegetation. He stands, and for as far as his eyes can see there is mud. The world looks broken and dead. No wildlife – of course with the exception of a very disoriented zoo of animals at his back. A bleak situation to say the very least.
But what does Noach decide to do? “Okay then. Thank You God for letting me get through this… Let’s get to work.” And although he was not perfect, he wasted no time. Family building and agriculture were on the top of his priority list.
We learn a very important lesson here. This is the Roshem Nun Ches, the lesson of Noach. What we see is that even when the world seems empty – as the month of MarCheshvan very much does – it specifically at those times where God expects from us to turn up the energy. It’s true the world looks unwelcoming, but it’s particularly in this month where we can show ourselves what we’re really made of
Bo El HaTeiva – the command to enter the ark – that’s Elul and Tishrei. We enter into an amazing spiritual marathon. We turn our backs on all the materialism and we focus – as we should – on the divine. Who’s not feel it during those months?! But Hashem also says, Tzei Min HaTeiva – go out into the empty world of Cheshvan and make the most of it. This is your proving ground.
This theme even plays into the constellation. We know that every month is connected to a zodiac constellation – a Mazal. The constellation of MarCheshvan is the Akrav, the scorpion. The scorpion is poisonous, it’s an impure animal – all in all, we don’t like scorpions.
But where does the scorpion make its home? The desert. The desert is barren, empty, and desolate. Very much like the world that Noach entered and very much like the month of Cheshvan. But it is specifically there that the scorpion thrives. Hashem is saying to us, “Do you see a desert-like month ahead of you? Then know that I believe that you can thrive like a scorpion.”
On a more esoteric level, the Sefer Yetzira tells us that every month is spiritually governed by a certain letter in the Hebrew alpha-bet. The letter of our month is Nun. We are told in the Gemara that Dovid HaMelech left our Nun from Ashrei (there is one Passuk for every letter with the exception of Nun) because the letter Nun brings one to think about Nefilah – falling. If Nun is the letter of falling, then so too we understand that Yerach Bul, the month that has Nun hanging above it, is the month of falling. The natural world is falling apart, and people – God forbid – may fall spiritually due to the lack of excitement.
But where is the positive spin that we’ve seen up until this point? The answer is found at the end of our Parsha. Some prints Chumashim have the tradition that the final letter of Parshas Noach is backwards (Rashi comments that he had this tradition). And what is the last letter in this week’s Parsha?
What does this mean? Perhaps we can suggest the following: Yes, it’s true. On the surface level, MarCheshvan is the month where one may fall. Without thinking one can become susceptible to the Nefilah of Yerach Bul. But if a person goes through the entire story of Noach and lets himself internalize this lesson; then through this Roshem of Nun Ches, he can turn that Nun upside-down!
Please Hashem, help me have the strength to make the most of this month. I know it’s hard, but I also know that you have engrained inside of me the power to make the most of any situation. Please help me awaken and tap into that place inside me – only with your help will by able to achieve as much as a I can in this upcoming months.
If we can internalize this message, then we will access the our inner tools to be able to thrive under any circumstances – to make the most of the world around me no matter how gloomy it looks. Reb Shlomo Carlebach always said that the term MarCheshvan which means the Bitter Cheshvan can be flipped around to spell RamCheshvan - the Highest Cheshvan.
B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to live with this, for if we can there is no doubt we will live lives of Simcha and fulfillment, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and ultimately the Geulah!