CHESHVAN – The 8th Hebrew Month
THEME: BREATH, FRAGRANCE, PATIENCE
QUOTE: May our lives emit the fragrance of His Presence.
Psalm 33:6 tells us: “With the Word of God the heavens were made; with the breath of His mouth, all their hosts.”
From the very beginning we realize the importance and power of breath. All that is was created by the breath of God, and His Divine breath is the constant sustainer of life.When God created man we are told: “God breathed into Adam’s nostrils” (Genesis 2:7). We know that the nose is the main passageway for air. Also, it contains membranes and fine hairs called cilia, which filter and purify the air when we inhale. Thus, the nose plays a vital part in the process of respiration. Through our noses we draw in air and oxygen which descends to our lungs. There life-sustaining oxygen is absorbed and channeled to the heart, which distributes it into our blood. There the oxygen is absorbed and the waste of carbon-dioxide is brought back to the lungs from where it is exhaled. There we have the fairly simple process of breathing, which helps to sustain our lives. It is a process we mostly take for granted until, G-d forbid, something goes wrong!
A Hebrew word intimately connected with respiration is ruach ((רוח. Ruach has many meanings; for example, it can refer to the wind that blows outdoors. Metaphysically, it can mean spirit or soul. A person’s ruach is the basic essence of one’s personality, one’s character, which is affected by one’s mind, thoughts, attitudes. Psychologically, too, e.g., one can speak of a ruach or spirit of despair, or a deep, quiet spirit. The Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש) is the Spirit of Holiness – the Spirit of God that can fill, inspire, and anoint one. The prophets, for example, were inspired (or in-spirited), to speak words from God to the people. The prophet Isaiah describes how Messiah is blessed with six qualities of the Spirit of God:-
“A ruach of wisdom and understanding, a ruach of counsel and might, a ruach of knowledge and of fear of God.” (11:2)
The Ruach is a gift from the Father to HIs beloved children. Yeshua instructed his talmidim to remain in Jerusalem after he ascended to the Father until Shavuot when they would receive the promise of the Father of a special anointing of the Holy Spirit in power (Acts 1:4-5). In the face of the ever-increasing Godlessness in the world today, we can trust the Spirit of Holiness to cleanse our hearts of any impediments that would hinder us from growing in knowledge of the One true God and, as a result, would prevent us from growing in a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. Proverbs 20:27 tells us: “The spirit of man is the lamp, or candle, of the Lord.” We are encouraged by Matthew, in chapter 12:21-22, who quotes the prophet Isaiah in saying, regarding the Messiah who would be “…a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out from prison those who sit in darkness,” that “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning – or smoldering, wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:1-4). No matter how faint a person’s faith is, the Spirit of God can fan it into a brightly burning flame!
We know that physical and spiritual realities are intertwined. In a lovely metaphor, the Breslover Rabbi Nachman compares the lungs to two wings whose gentle movement constantly fans and cools the heart in its demanding work of pumping blood, thus regulating its temperature and enabling it to operate smoothly without overheating. To live, physically, we need a constant supply of air and water. Spiritually, the Torah, or Word of God, is often compared to both of these life-sustaining elements. In connection with breathing, we inhale the moisture-laden air of Torah, which fills our being with life. Interestingly, the five books of Torah can be compared to the five lobes of the lungs. When we breathe in the truth and holiness of His Word, our response should be to exhale prayer – words of thanksgiving and praise to the Giver of Life, as well as words that carry truth, kindness, and holiness.
The enemies of God and His people “…breathe out cruelty, or violence” (Psalm 27:12). This indicates that what they are breathing in – their very life source and essence of being is cruelty, hatred, violence, and lies. The words we breathe out have power, and either elevate or deplete us spiritually. In addition, they have the power to influence and affect those around us. Let us speak life-giving words and be careful to not be a source of Air pollution!
Happily, when Messiah is reigning as King of kings over all the earth, and all mankind turns to God, then speech will be perfected, as the prophet Zephaniah foretells: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord” (3:9).
The Hebrew word for nose is af, which also can mean anger. In II Samuel 22:9, anger is compared to smoke “…escaping through the nostrils.” If one becomes angry, impatient, or anxious, one tends to breathe short, shallow breaths. Being aware of this and regulating one’s breathing by taking deep, long and slow breaths, helps control the negative emotions. In Exodus 34:6, a characteristic of God is erech apayim – literally of ‘extended nose’ but meaning “long of breath, slow to anger, patient!”
We presently are moving from the intense and Feast-filled month of Tishrei into the quieter month of Cheshvan, which is sometimes called Mar-Cheshvan, (Mar means bitter), because it has no festivals. This also indicates a move, or shift, of awareness from an intense focus on our relationship with God, when we affirm His Kingship over our lives, and the universe in general, and rededicate ourselves in His service, to our relationship with and service to others. Cheshvan is the first Rosh Chodesh of the new calendar year that is celebrated after Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei. This initiates the start of our walk once again in connection with the others in our lives. We can employ what we learned during the intense month of Tishrei, when we purposed to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart,” to now “…love your neighbour as yourself.”
FRAGRANCE. May our lives emit the fragrance of His Presence.
The Hebrew words for spirit – ru’ach and smell – rei’ach are closely related, and for good reason. The sense of smell is mysterious and powerful. The Sages say that: “Mashiach will be able to ‘smell’ deceit and judge by his sense of smell.” (Sanhedrin 93b) In English, when something is “off” and does not seem right, we have the expression” “I smell a rat!”
In Exodus 20:13, the commandment “Do not commit adultery,” in Hebrew is, Lo tin’af, which literally would be translated as, “Do not give in to the nose!” The Sages comment that this can mean, “Do not even seek to smell the perfume of another woman for this leads to adultery.”
Anatomically, the physical sense of smell is associated with the limbic lobe of the brain, which is considered to be the link between the cognitive and emotional processes, that is, between thoughts and feelings. Since the sexual urge is undoubtedly one of man’s strongest passions, which impacts his mind as well as his emotions, physiologically the sense of smell and sexual desire are interconnected. Quoting Rebbe Nachman again: “A spiritually pure sense of smell can be attained only through sexual purity. Where sexual purity is lacking, spiritual energy inevitably wanes.”
In ancient biblical times perfumes were very costly and only used by royalty. We see in the book of Esther how the young women who were to be presented to the king underwent a treatment of “…six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women” (2:12). *
Of course, the Song of Songs is the most fragrance-laden of books in the Bible, and speaks of the king as “…perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant spices of a merchant” (3:6). We can make the connection with the gifts brought by the wise men from the East to the babe in Bethlehem, who is destined to become the King of kings, all of which indicate royalty: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In a striking example, it’s interesting to note that God filled His house with fragrance. The special incense burnt constantly on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place filled the Temple and also all the surrounds of Jerusalem; so much so, that the women didn’t need to wear perfume. How wonderful to realize that as travellers, and pilgrims during the Feasts, approached Jerusalem they were informed of the presence of the King of the universe by the fragrance in the air.
Stirred by the Spirit of Holiness, may we be filled with the beautiful fragrance of the presence of Messiah and may our homes and lives, too, emit a fragrance pleasing to our Father God.