Our son, Jonah, had a short break from college last weekend. We were so excited to greet him at the airport, wrap our arms around him and smother him with love after not seeing him for almost two months. While he was excited to be home, it became clear that he was struggling with something that torments me: having to do nothing.
After weeks of classes, campus parties and events, building new friendships and creating his own community, Jonah had a hard time lounging around the house. Most of his friends are off at colleges that were not on break last weekend. While Cheryl and I carved out time to be with him, we were still busy with our own professional obligations. It did not take long for boredom to kick in for Jonah.
As someone who is overprogrammed most of the time, I completely understood what was happening to Jonah. He is loving his hectic life on campus. I thrive when I am busy. When the busyness stops and nothing fills our day, we do not know what to do with ourselves. The hustle and bustle define us. Nothingness, well, it can be overwhelmingly dreadful.
For Jonah, me and many of you who have trouble enjoying downtime, Judaism gives us the month of Cheshvan which began yesterday and ends on November 4. Clearly, many in our tradition have trouble embracing nothing because Cheshvan is often referred to as Marcheshvan, the bitter month of Cheshvan. Why bitter? Because there are no festivals during this month. After the rush of Selichot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the emptiness of Cheshvan can be a letdown for those of us who thrive on busy. But, I believe that the emptiness of Cheshvan is there to teach us something extremely important.
All of the holidays that kept us busy over the past several weeks, they were training wheels, teaching us or reminding us of the incredible spirituality that fills our world. The holidays are over. The training wheels have come off. It is time to experience this spirituality on our own, at least until we arrive at Chanukah after Cheshvan comes to an end. For those of us who are used to rushing from this event to that event, the rushing around serves as our training wheels. Navigating the world without training wheels is not easy, but Cheshvan gives us no choice. We have four quiet Jewish weeks ahead of us. What are we to do with this quiet time? Psalm 37 teaches us to “be still (and) silent before God and wait patiently.” Kabbalah teaches us that in this stillness, in this silence, we can, if we allow ourselves to do so, get a glimpse of God because God is no-thing. God is not definable. God is ayin – sacred no-thingness from which the rabbis teach us everything can be found.
Cheshvan exists to remind us there is meaning, purpose, beauty and wisdom in nothingness. For those of us who confuse nothingness with laziness, Cheshvan is a spiritual challenge. It is a month that gives us the opportunity to go deeper than a busy professional, academic and/or personal schedule and discover transformative lessons about ourselves and the world – if and only if we allow ourselves to slow down and live the stillness of this month. Jonah and I are going to try to do just this. I invite you to join us.

Leave a Reply