Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Prayers of Cheshvan

(an excerpt from Orchard of Delights)
Cheshvan is the only Hebrew month containing no holiday, commemorative event, or fast day. Following the month of Tishrei, which has the major holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret, this lack is particularly noticeable. For this reason some call it ‘Mar Cheshvan’ (Bitter Heshvan). Yet, tradition teaches that in Messianic times, Heshvan will be “rewarded,” for the Third Temple will be inaugurated during it. For this reason some people already refer to this month as ‘Ram Cheshvan’ (Exalted Cheshvan). Alluding to this, the word ‘ram’ is actually the inverted form of the word ‘mar.’
     Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach teaches that this month’s enormous spiritual potential is created by the nature of our Heshvan prayers: prayers that reflect how we pray when it seems as if our task has been completed, the verdict for the year finalized. During Tishrei, when we are surrounded by the holiness of all the holidays, it is easy to find the incentive and inspiration to pray. But what happens when the holidays are over and we return to our ordinary routines? If we fall back into our old ways as well, then the prayers and spiritual service of Tishrei failed to touch us deeply enough. If we can actually bring to fruition those changes we strived for and keep praying with the same commitment and intensity, then we have the ability to transform a potentially bitter month into an exalted one.
     The importance of not letting go of the achievements we have attained in Tishrei is also reflected in the portion of Va’eira, which always occurs in the middle of Cheshvan. In this portion, the first recorded prayer in the Torah takes place as Abraham prays to save the wicked people of Sodom. His prayer seems to go virtually unanswered – God will save the city if there are ten righteous men, which there are not – and the verse states that Abraham “returned to his place” (Genesis 18:33). But what should interest us is the following: what does Abraham do after he has reached the heights of prayer and seen his prayers essentially rejected? A literal or peshat reading of the verse would teach us that Abraham gave up, leaving the place where he had been talking to God, but a deeper reading taught by Rabbi Carlebach sheds further light on the matter: Abraham, despite his seeming failure, returned to his original stance, “his place,” and continued to pray. Though the text seems to indicate that Abraham’s prayers go unanswered, Abraham’s prayers not only helped save his nephew Lot, but even the eventual spark of the Mashiach, who is descended from Lot through Ruth. Furthermore, in this first recorded prayer, Abraham modeled for all time what prayer means to us as individuals and Jews: Abraham implanted in the Jewish people the importance of praying for the rectification of the world, even when it appears to be so far away.
     Indeed, even though God sent angels to save Lot before Abraham prayed, it was Abraham’s prayers that saved the spark of Mashiach within Lot. For Abraham wanted to believe that nothing was beyond redemption, nothing was so broken that it could not be repaired, even the evil Sodom. This core optimism and faith that good will ultimately triumph is the very energy of Mashiach. 

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