Finding Favor While the Waters are Rising
No festivals, nor holidays, not even a fast... Void of outward signs of spiritual activity, the month of Cheshvan would appear to be a sleeper. Yet still waters run deep, a very appropriate allusion to the month of Cheshvan, the month of the great flood. And if the month of Cheshvan, (coined MarCheshvan - "bitter" Cheshvan because of its lack of sweetening holidays), appears placid, it is because the spiritual changes it measures are tectonic in their vastness, and seismic in their impact, too profound, perhaps, to be detected easily. For the spiritual trajectory that Cheshvan marks stretches all the way back to the days of the flood and concludes only at the redemptive dawn of mankind's tomorrow.
"In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights." (Genesis 7:11-12)
It was in the month of Cheshvan that the rain began a-falling, marking the end of the beginning for all mankind. Creation, having begun so positively, ("And G-d saw the light, that it was good" Genesis1:4, "...and G-d saw that it was good" ibid 1:10,12,18,21.25, "And G-d saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" ibid 1:31), took a steep downturn, ("And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the day," (Genesis 6:5) What went wrong?
What went wrong was that man, despite having been the crowning glory of G-d's handwork, whose very breath of life was inspired into him by G-d Himself, experienced a spiritual de-generation with the very passing of the biological generations. Gradually distancing himself from his Divine source, he began ascribing sovereignty to the various aspects of G-d's created universe, eventually creating in his own heart an idolatrous pantheon of empty gods. With the one true G-d out of mind, soon man would begin to follow only the whims of his own heart, and that would lead quickly to "only evil all the day."
"And the earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with violence." (Genesis 6:11) Our sages teach us that the verse is referring to two specific offenses being committed rampantly: violent robbery, (hamas), and sexual impropriety. These two crimes constitute the final elimination of G-d and desecration of His creation that had begun in the earlier generations. No longer recognizing that all belongs to G-d, violent robbery becomes the norm. No longer recognizing that we are created in G-d's image, we disabuse our own spark of Divinity. In two weeks time a "Gay Pride Parade" is scheduled to march through the streets of downtown Jerusalem. Coupled with the Oslo inspired terror which culminated in the violent expulsion of 9,000 Jews from their own homes and communities just over a year ago, the earth seems to be once again corrupted and filled with violence. Are we once again on the threshold of a cataclysmic end?
But the month of Cheshvan also contains within it the seeds of redemption. Not only is it the month that the righteous Noach boarded his ark, but according to midrashic tradition, it is the month in which the future third Holy Temple will be dedicated. Yes, the month of Cheshvan will ultimately reveal itself in time as a vehicle for redemption. Referring again to our midrash:
"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 caused the month of Cheshvan great embarrassment. In response, G-d promised to reward Cheshvan in the future when it will host the dedication ceremony of the Third Holy Temple."
May we, too, fine favor in G-d's eye, as did Noach, and may we, with our own hands, speedily rebuild the Holy Temple, and may our offerings be a sweet smelling savour unto HaShem.
The month of Cheshvan, the parasha - Torah reading - of Noach, and the past, present and future of the Holy Temple, are all discussed on this week's TEMPLE TALK, with Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven.
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