The Jewish month of Tishri ends and we have made it through so many holidays. We begin the month of Cheshvan and there are no Jewish holidays, except, of course, Shabbat. This is a good time to enjoy Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month. The timing of the new month in ancient times occurred when the Sanhedrin would receive the testimony of two reliable witnesses reporting that they had seen the new moon. The message was spread throughout Israel and Babylonia by small fires on hilltops. Someone would go to the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with a long pole which was set on fire and wave it until the next person saw it and started waving, and then the relay went all the way to Babylonia. Then the Samaritans started lighting fires on hills to mislead the Jews, so the Jews switched to messengers. What an interesting process, and thankfully we don’t need to do this today!
So what do we do on Rosh Chodesh? It is not a day off from work but there are some changes in prayers and a special Torah selection. On the Shabbat prior, the new month is announced. However, Rosh Chodesh has been considered a special holiday for women (but no day off from work). The legend told is that the holiday was a reward given to the women of Israel because they refused to give up their jewelry for the creation of the Golden Calf. Additionally some have said that the menstrual cycle is similar to the monthly cycle of the moon. And the sages have said that the status of the moon is compared to the status of women. The story in the Talmud tells that originally the moon and the sun were once of equal size and brightness. The moon said one should be brighter, so G-d in His wisdom made the moon smaller. When the moon objected, G-d said that because of the moon’s lack of humility and gratitude, the moon would be smaller and would give off not a bright but rather a soft glow. The Midrash says that the moon learned this important lesson and was given the stars to help brighten the night sky. The Zohar, the work of the mystical tradition, states that when the world is redeemed, the Shechinah, often thought of as the feminine aspect of G-d, will reunite with the masculine and then the moon will shine more brightly.
Many interesting thoughts on the meanings of Rosh Chodesh, and the best part is that it gives us another reason to learn and celebrate. The month of Cheshvan may not have special holidays but it does have a favorite Torah portion — the story of Noah! It’s a good time to really read that parasha beyond when they all get off the ark — lots of interesting things and not just about the animals! It is also a good time as we remember the status of women on Rosh Chodesh to read the many Midrashim on Noah’s wife — that woman deserves a holiday with lots of days off!!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.