Chodesh Tov!  [Happy (new) month!]

That’s the traditional greeting for every new month. The moon is key to the Jewish calendar, and every new moon is a new month, a Rosh Chodesh.

At sundown on October 12, we entered a new month, Cheshvan of 5776.

The month of Cheshvan is the quietest month of the Jewish year – no holidays, no fasts, just quiet. And really, after the last six weeks, it’s time for a little quiet. The only exception is the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd, which is celebrated in Israel on the 29th of CheshvanSigd falls on the 50th day after Yom Kippur (just as Shavuot is 50 days after the first night of Passover) and in Ethiopian Jewish tradition, it is the day to celebrate God revealing Godself to Moses. For more about Sigd, there is an excellent article in the Times of Israel.

The name Cheshvan is short for Marcheshvan, the older name for the month, which comes from waraḫsamnu, the Akkadian (Mesopotamian) name meaning “eighth month.” (In Mesopotamia, the month we call Nisan is the first of the month, which is how the months were counted in Biblical times, too.)

At some point in the past someone noticed that Mar is Hebrew for “bitter,” and the tradition arose that Marcheshvan was “Bitter Cheshvan.” Indeed, there are bitter dates in the month:

12 Cheshvan – Assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin (1995)

16 Cheshvan – Kristallnacht (1938)

Bitter though those dates may be, I wish you a gentle month of Cheshvan in 5776.

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