Rabbi Cassi Kail
I write this article as the month of Heshvan is beginning. Just after the four major holidays that occur in quick succession during the High Holy Day season, the month of Heshvan represents a change of pace. The Talmud refers to this month as Mar Heshvan; the word Mar means bitter because it is the only month containing no holidays other than Shabbat. The rabbis call it Mar Heshvan to lament that there are not more opportunities to celebrate during this particular month. I choose to focus on the other meaning of Mar, which is a drop of water. During Mar Heshvan (or Heshvan for short), the rains often begin to fall in Israel, dousing the dry ground with refreshing water, which will one day sprout new life.
Whereas the High Holy Days spur us to act immediately to improve our lives, the month of Heshvan reminds us of the importance of self-care. It comes down to the age-old adage about the oxygen mask. If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot help anyone else. If we do not water the parched fields in our souls, they will be unable to bear new fruit.
Many of us have long to-do lists during these challenging times. Work hours and family responsibilities merge into seemingly endless tasks. While I enjoy a to-do list as much as the next person, Heshvan implores us to step back wherever possible to refuel ourselves. After eight months of quarantine, it calls for us to check-in. How are we doing? Are our basic needs being met? What do we need to do to live our best, happiest, and most fulfilling lives? For what refreshing waters is our soul thirsting?
Self-care is central to Jewish tradition. Every week, Shabbat implores us to take a break from life’s mundane tasks to focus on family and community. We might celebrate by joining the community for services, enjoying a special meal, taking Shabbat walks, meditating, learning, or doing other meaningful activities. When we take the time to observe in this way, we may find that we enter the new week refreshed and prepared.
Heshvan calls us to ask ourselves if we need better self-care. Would we benefit from reaching out more to friends and family? Is it time to reach out for support from doctors or clergy? Would walking or sitting outside give us the grounding for which we yearn? Would we benefit from meditation, study, or exercise? Do we need a creative outlet, such as painting, writing, sculpture, or playing music? Do we need to treat ourselves to a nice meal, a manicure, or a new haircut?
Shabbat services, meditation, sound healing, Torah study, Artist Beit Midrash, and Cantor’s corner are just a few of the Temple’s offerings that we hope will offer inspiration and renewal. We hope you will take advantage of them.
As we remain vigilant in mask-wearing, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands, Heshvan reminds to also practice self-care by slowing down, practicing self-compassion, and doing what we need to be our best selves.