Simplify & Soar – 8 – (CHESHVAN) Tiferet – Compassion; Jacob; and the Color Green

After the whirl of the Fall Feasts in Tishrei, Cheshvan is a welcome quiet month. ‘Mar’ means ‘bitter’ in Hebrew, and the month sometimes is called MarCheshvan because there are no biblical feasts in it at all. This proves to be a blessing in disguise, however, because it provides us with the opportunity to slow down and breathe. We can take stock after the spiritual “highs” of Tishrei and realize that we need not look forward in fear, nor back with regret. Now is the time to stop and look around with awareness of just where we are, with the knowledge that life is unbelievably precious and we can value and be grateful for each and every day.

Interestingly, the letters of Tishrei can be rearranged to form ‘reishit’ – the Hebrew word for beginning, as in the first word of the Torah:  B’reishit – In the beginning. 

With the ending of Tishrei, we have made a new beginning. At the same time we make a new start of the Torah Cycle.

BLUE-GREEN WATERS

The month is associated with water, and it is the month of the first rains in Israel. It is believed that Noah was born on the first day of Cheshvan. It is recorded that Noah, Na’amah and their children entered the Ark on the 17th day of Cheshvan. The flood waters, like the ocean, remind us that these waters are dangerous and mysterious. It is like another world swarming with a myriad creatures, and a great power.

“The sea represents the  unconscious. In Cheshvan we allow the sea of our personal stories to rise within us. Within Cheshvan is the fire of the spirit, lighting our way through the Autumn.The fruits we find {in the mysterious depths] will help us begin a year of discovery.”

                                                                          ~ Jill Hammer – Book of Days

As well as the sea-green hues, the color green has an almost infinite  variety of shades. During Tishrei we have been enveloped in the greens of Sukkot – the schach (palm branches or other natural materials forming and adorning the roof of the sukkah), the branches of the lulav, eating green olives, which are one of the seven species of the fruits of Israel. 

Irish poet John O’Donohue describes: “Green is the color of youthfulness; it is full of Spring energy. It is the color of the earth aflourish. Green is not static but full of the energy and direction of growth, urgent on its journey towards the light. Gravity cannot keep it down; the call of light is always stronger.  …Even from under earth smothered over with concrete or tarmac, the green blade will rise.”

Green also is the color of hope. As the first rains begin to fall this month in Israel, we anticipate the new life that will burst forth during the coming months. The now dry, brown hillsides will be covered with a mantle of bright, fresh green. The sheep, goats and other animals will bound in delight at the feast before them. Then, in the Spring, the bare branches of the trees will be decked with buds and little green leaves of new life. These carry all the promise of the fruits and colors of the Summer and Autumn yet to appear. 

TIFERET – COMPASSION

Our forefather Ya’akov is associated with the beautiful attribute of Tiferet – compassion. Jacob’s nature was a balance between the chessed – lovingkindness of Avraham and the unbending justice of Yitzchak. 

Key concepts in a journey of spiritual growth are those of relationship and transformation.  A core attribute necessary in both is Compassion – Rachamamim. So much so, that the Sages of Israel commented “…anyone who is not compassionate with people is certainly not a descendent of our forefather Abraham.” (Beitzah 32b) Strong ties of love, friendship, and care cannot be formed without compassion. 

What is compassion? Is it simply a feeling?

Renowned Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) asserts:

Compassion is the feeling of empathy, which the pain of one being awakens in another; and the higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering which, like a voice form heaven, penetrates the heart.

The word ‘rechem,’ meaning ‘womb,’ shares a root with rachamim. Therefore the mother-child bond is strongly connected with compassion. We also find in Psalm 103:13  a connection with the father-child bond. 

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”

A name for God that is frequently used in Jewish writings and prayer is HaRachaman – the Compassionate One. Also, Ha’El Ha’Av Ha’Rachaman – God the Compassionate Father.

True love cannot exist without compassion and, just as our Father extends His love and compassion to all, it can exist in many kinds of relationships. 

The attribute on the opposite end of the scale as it were, is justice, or judgment. If God had created the world solely based on strict justice humankind could not have survived. As Alan Morinis explains in his book Everyday Holiness:

A world run according to the principle of stern justice would leave no room fro free will, learning, change, or growth. Because every single time you did something wrong, mechanical rules would mete out results instantly and without variation. To forestall such insufferable rigidity , God included the attribute of compassion as an essential feature of creation, right alongside judgment.” 

Morinis shares a midrash that describes the interplay of judgment and compassion by way of a story of a king who owned some beautiful ad fragile glass cups. “He said to himself, ‘If I pour hot water into them they will expand and break, and if I pour cold water into them, they will contract and shatter.’ So what did he do? He mixed hot water with cold water and poured the mixture into the cups, and they did not break.” This is compared with how God decided to create the world with a mixture of both justice and compassion so that human beings could endure it. 

YA’AKOV / JACOB

Tiferet – a blend of earth, sky and sea. 

Jacob and Esau (Ya’akov and Eisav) were twins and yet their characters, and appearance, were totally different. We are given descriptions of both men. Eisav was well built, ruddy and an outdoor hunter, and had a strong attachment with his father, Yitzchak – who enjoyed the food provided by the game his son brought home.. Ya’akov was quiet and spent his time more indoors , at home and in the “tents” – considered to be a place of studying the Torah transmitted by his grandfather Avraham. He had a strong attachment to his mother, Rivka (Rebecca).

The picture this presents is that Eisav was a predominantly physical character. For example, he was prepared to sell his birthright as first son for a bowl of food. 

Ya’akov, on the other hand, knew the God of his grandfather Avraham and his father Yitzchak, and was very aware of the significance of the birthright.

This difference illustrates an important truth – the difference between body and soul. Eisav’s total focus was upon the strength of his body. That was his identity. Ya’akov demonstrated that while the body is important, its primary function is as a container for the soul. He was a spiritual being. His primary identity was his soul – his neshama.

As a human being, created in the image of God, we each are a soul contained in a body. The body is vital and a necessary tool through which the soul is expressed into the world. It’s an important part, but it’s not the real YOU! 

This truth is lived out in TIshrei  and, predominantly, on Yom Kippur when we minimize our attachment to the body by fasting. It is food that maintains the connection between body and soul.If we stopped eating entirely the neshama would depart from the body But for one day the soul can safely distance itself from the body and we can transcend the physical and  experience a more angelic state. This prepares us to go forward into Cheshvan and the new Hebrew calendar year that has just begun.

Ya’akov, therefore, reminds us that we are spiritual beings in a physical world and our goal is to uplift and transcend our physicality to draw closer and closer to our Father God – the Source of our soul.  The challenge is to not be caught in a changeless, habitual cycle. The Hebrew word for nature is ‘teva’, which shares a root with ‘tovei’a’ to drown! To drown means to be drawn into and become part of the water, unable to escape its pull. We can become so pulled into the physical demands and ways of the world that our souls become more and more diminished and almost extinguished. Even if we are outwardly doing the “religious” things, we may have lost the inner purpose and passion. Mindless habit replaces conscious awareness and spiritual transcendence. 

The first commandment given to His newly redeemed people by God after He delivered them from the slavery of Egypt was to declare the new month (Exodus 12:2). As a nation they were to begin anew. The word ‘chodesh’ is related to ‘chadash’ – new! The concept of newness was one to which they should always adhere. Every new day is to be greeted with gratitude; as is every week, month, and year. The lunar calendar reflects the nature of the moon that is always in a state of change – of waning and renewal. 

May we constantly continue to strive for growth and newness, and avoid getting stuck in a merely habitual rut of thinking and of monotonously living out our days. 

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