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The lull of Heshvan

A teaching from the end of the first week of DLTI, last summer, a year-plus and a lifetime ago: Jewish holidays don't emerge out of nowhere like blips on the radar screen. We don't "attend" services (rather we serve, we are serving) just as we don't "observe" holidays (the year flows organically from one to the next.)

I've been thinking of that over the last few days, as we've entered the lunar month of Heshvan. Many of the rabbis and rabbinic students I know joke that Rosh Hodesh Heshvan (the festival of the new moon marking the start of the month of Heshvan) is their favorite Jewish holiday...because it ushers in a full month with no Jewish holidays in it at all!

It's a joke, obviously, but there's truth in it too. In all seriousness, there's something valuable in the way this rhythm unfolds. After the nonstop work (both spiritual and, for clergy, practical and intellectual and logistical) of the month of Tishri, the prospect of a month with no holidays is incredibly appealing.

Going from being so intensely "on" to being "off" for a while can generate a kind of spiritual whiplash, but the break is much-needed...and I think there's spiritual wisdom in taking a breather at this point in the year. We need some downtime in order to process the new insights and new awareness that may have arisen during our celebrations of the new year, the aseret y'mei teshuvah ("ten days of repentance"), the week of Sukkot, and its three capstones of Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I'm reminded of a teaching I copied down during the middot class I took this summer.  In Ezekiel 1:14 we read about how the holy creatures (hayyot) wax and wane (ratzo v'shov.) But hayyot can also be read as hiyyut, life-force -- which teaches us that life's energy is always waxing and waning, coming and going, going forth and returning. Going from the manic energy of Tishri to the lull of Heshvan is an instance of this kind of shift. Spiritual life never holds still, but there's a kind of stillness that can emerge in the balance between the ups and the downs, the intense periods of spiritual activity and the quiet periods of rest and integration.

I'm looking forward to seeing what arises for me as the current moon waxes and wanes, as the Days of Awe recede further into my past, as the autumn leaves fall, as we move through the darkening days toward the zenith of the solar year. The spiritual seeds we planted during Tishri and the Days of Awe are settling into the earth, getting comfortable in their snug dark home. They, and we, need the coming winter in order to be able to germinate in time, to lead us toward spring.

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