At first glance, most people would agree that the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, now upon us, is the most drab and colorless month of the entire year. It is the only month in which there falls out not one festival or observance, not even of minor significance; not even a public fast day. The anniversary of the death of our matriarch Rachel occurs on Cheshvan 11 (this year, this falls out on Tues. Oct. 26th), and this has traditionally been considered as the month's most noteworthy day. In light of the fact that Cheshvan comes on the heels of Tishrei, the time of the High Holydays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, this month seems particularly lackluster. Just last month we were busy with the shofar, fasting and repentance, the sukkah and the four species. Where is the special personality of Cheshvan? Indeed, it is known as Mar Cheshvan, "Mr. Cheshvan" - which can also be translated as "bitter" Cheshvan. The prefix denotes a certain formality or distance.
But in reality, our sages share a most interesting tradition regarding the true, hidden nature of this month. Admittedly, at present there are no festive observances during Cheshvan, yet this will not always be the case...
The Midrash teaches that Moses completed work on the desert Tabernacle during the month of Kislev. However, although the Tabernacle was ready, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded him to wait with its dedication until the following month of Nisan, the month of our patriarch Isaac's birth. But because it felt shunned, the month of Kislev was embarrassed. And so G-d rewarded it later in history, with the dedication ceremony of the Second Temple, held in the era of the Hasmonean priests - during the epic Chanukah victory.
Following the era of the Tabernacle, King Solomon built the First Temple and the work was completed during the month of Cheshvan. But the spirit of Divine inspiration indicated to King Solomon that he was to hold off the dedication of the Temple until the month of Tishrei. This time, it was the month of Cheshvan that was embarrassed. The Midrash concludes that G-d promised to reward this month in the future - when it will host the dedication ceremony of the Third Holy Temple.
Thus according to this symbolic, somewhat whimsical homiletical teaching, this drab month of "Mar"Cheshvan is only temporarily boring. At present it hosts no holidays, but it actually boasts a scintillating future, for it is only waiting, "on hold" for the great time to come, the dedication of the Third Temple.
In other words, our sages are conveying the idea that the promise of redemption as expressed by the continuation of the Divine service in the Holy Temple, is inherently locked into the potential of this particular time of year.
But we can delve further into this interesting tradition and reveal more of its background and origin, and even deeper levels of understanding and symbolism. Our sages also reveal that historically, in generations past, this has been a troublesome month for Israel. In all the various places of her exile, her enemies always amplified her distress during this particular month. Invariably, numerous harsh decrees that were made against Jewish communities began in the month of Cheshvan.
The Torah itself provides the explanation for this phenomenon: Long ago, the people of Judah rebelled against the kingdom of David, and placed Jeroboam son of Navat as king over them during this very month: "So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month... " (I Kings 12:33).
Thus we have the key to this entire mysterious cycle. For the kingship of David is an expression of G-d's sovereignty, and it is a condition which is most clearly manifested in the Holy Temple. The Creator, in His ultimate compassion, always arranges that "the cure precedes the sickness;" the ultimate rectification for the rebellion which took place during the month of Cheshvan will be the dedication of the Third Temple, the ultimate declaration of His sovereignty and unity, to take place during this very same month.
And so we see that the idea of Chesvan's alter ego, that of host to the dedication ceremony of the Third Temple, is not merely a whimsical, wishful flight of fancy, a fable about a month being embarrassed. Rather, the concept itself is an insight into a pattern of ancient historical cycles. And if we do not learn from these cycles, we are destined not to rectify our mistakes, but to relive them.
Are we rectifying our mistakes, or reliving them? Today, we are once again subject to the harsh decrees that are issued during the month of Cheshvan, here in Israel. But ironically, today these edicts are not foisted upon us by feudal landlords or foreign noblemen. They originate in the government of Ariel Sharon, which is hellbent on passing its unilateral disengagement plan in Israel's Knesset this week. For the first time in history, a Jewish government is threatening to do to the Land of Israel what heretofore only foreign occupiers did - declare portions of the Biblical Land of Israel off-limits to Jews. If Sharon's disengagement plan is legally adopted, Israel will evict 1500 Jewish families from their homes in Gush Katif and effectively award terrorism with the largest prize it has ever received.
Can there be a greater rebellion than this? We have now begun to read the Torah portions relating to our patriarch Abraham. Abraham was the first true believer in the One G-d of Israel; he fought for this belief, alone, in a world sunken in idolatry. He alone declared the oneness of G-d: "One was Abraham" (Ez. 33:24). He is called Abraham "the Hebrew" (Gen. 14:13), meaning, "on the other side." Abraham stood, immovable and impervious to all, on one side of the world in his belief, and the entire world stood on the other side. And precisely during this week, following the Shabbat in which we read "for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever" (Gen. 13:15), the Knesset is scheduled to debate and ratify the disengagement plan: the implosion and undoing of Abraham's promise.
We live in a time of spiritual confusion and bankrupt, immoral leaders. Those who are the last defenders of Zionism - the sacred value of Jews living in the Land of Israel - are branded as "anti-Zionist," because they refuse to accept the empty pronouncements and obscene decisions of the decayed, decadent establishment. Zionism means encouraging Jews to live freely in the Land of Israel - not forcibly removing three generations of Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel.
But there is great light as well. On the eve of the month of Cheshvan, a great event took place in Tiberias, Israel: For the first time in 1600 years, a movement to reestablish the Sanhedrin gained enough momentum to gather seventy-one accomplished, learned sages together in an attempt to reconvene Israel's highest authority. The Sanhedrin is Israel's supreme body of legislature and wisdom, responsible not only for legal justice, but for social justice and social welfare.
This was an act of great symbolism, for as Maimonides states, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sanhedrin was exiled to Tiberias, and this was the location of its last session. Traditionally, it will reconvene in Tiberias, and from there, reestablish itself once again in Jerusalem.
It remains to be seen whether or not this attempt at reconvening the Sanhedrin will gain enough recognized status. Only time will tell. Some regard it with a degree of cynicism: Are we really ready for the Sanhedrin? Are these rabbis great enough? Are we really worthy?
These deliberations fall short of the issue at hand, and are immaterial. The very fact that after so many years of toil and fruitless attempts, this session was finally able to transpire, is itself a sign that reconvening the Sanhedrin is an idea whose time has come. If the people of Israel have given birth to this idea, and if it has originated from their collective soul and desire, then it will succeed. And this - during the month of Cheshvan - is the perfect act of rectification for the mistake of Jeroboam's rebellion against David. If the people of Israel are disgusted with their immoral leadership and their sinful, rebellious disengagement plan, and seek to reinstate the sages of Israel as Israel's highest authority, this itself is a step towards the dedication ceremony of the Third Temple.
Another Midrash observes: "Israel showed disdain for three things: the kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of David, and the building of the Temple... Israel will never see a sign of redemption until they once again desire all three. This is what the verse states (Hosea 3:5): 'And afterwards the Children of Israel will return and seek out the L-rd their G-d' - This is the kingdom of Heaven; 'and David their king' - this is the kingdom of David; 'and they shall come trembling to the L-rd and His goodness in the latter days' - this is the Holy Temple."
No, Cheshvan's embarrassment, and the future dedication of the Third Temple, is not some fanciful, whimsical tale. Every positive step we take is part of this process, a step leading away from rebellion and closer to the Third Temple. For we are indeed worthy of all G-d's promises. He has repeatedly declared that we are. We need only to convince ourselves.