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Is This Month Cheshvan or Marcheshvan?

Is This Month Cheshvan or Marcheshvan?

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I’m confused about the name of this Jewish month. Some call it “Cheshvan” and others say “Marcheshvan.” To complicate matters, on your own site, you have it both ways. So what is the correct name for this month, Cheshvan or Marcheshvan?

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The Jerusalem Talmud informs us that “the names of the months came up with us from Babylonia.”1 Until the Babylonian exile, the months were either known by their number, e.g., “the first month,” or by names that are not commonly used nowadays. In fact, in the Book of Kings, this month is called “the month of Bul, the eighth month,”2 counting from the springtime month of Nissan.

The post-Babylonian-exile Scriptures (such as Esther and Nechemia), while mentioning other months, never mention this month, so there is no clear scriptural inference one way or the other.

Some suggest that “Marcheshvan” appears to come from the Akkadian word meaning “the eighth month.” 3

Marcheshvan vs. Cheshvan

Throughout the Mishnah4 and Talmud,5 and many later works, the month is called Marcheshvan. This is also the case when dating Jewish legal documents or when blessing the new month.6

On the other hand, we find that in the oldest extant esoteric work, Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation)—a book that predates and is mentioned in the Talmud7—this month is referred to as Cheshvan.8 The Zohar likewise calls this month Cheshvan. 9 And this is how it is usually called in everyday speech.

So why the discrepancy? Because there is a difference of opinion whether the month's true name is Marcheshvan, or whether it really is Cheshvan and the mar is merely an appellation added to describe the month.

There are a number of explanations offered as to the deeper meaning behind the mar in Marcheshvan.

Bitterness

Some explain that mar means “bitterness” (think of the maror we eat on Passover). The month is seen as a bitter for a number of reasons:

● Coming after the holiday-rich month of Tishrei, the month of Marcheshvan is devoid of any holidays.10

Sarah (and Rachel) passed away during this month.11

● During the First Temple Era, when the Jewish nation split into two kingdoms, Jeroboam, king of the northern tribes, instituted a pagan holiday in the month of Cheshvan to counter the worship of G‑d that took place in Jerusalem, which was situated in the kingdom of Judah.12

A Drop of Water

Others explain that the Hebrew word mar means “a drop of water,” as in the verse “like a drop (mar) from a bucket.”13 It is in this month that Jews in the land of Israel begin praying for rain. Thus, we say mar as a prayer for rain.14 Additionally, the Mabul (Great Flood) in the times of Noah began in this month.15

(Interestingly, commentators point out that the original name for the month found in Scriptures, “Bul,” is also a reference to the Mabul.16)

Head or Master

Some explain that, on the contrary, the mar in Marcheshvan actually has a positive connotation, as the word mar can mean the honorific “Master.” This honorific is given since this is the month that King Solomon finished building the First Temple.17

In truth, there is an element of bitterness here as well, for although it was finished then, the Temple wasn’t dedicated until later, leaving the month bereft of a possible holiday.

Despite the dedication of the First Temple not being in the month of Marcheshvan, the Midrash relates that the Third Temple will be dedicated in this month.18 Thus, not only will it not be a “bitter” month, on the contrary, it will be a month of rejoicing!19 May it be speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1:2.
3.
Thus it would be related to the words Merach-Shwan: Merach - month and Shwan - eight.See however the Aruch Hashalem where he suggests that it is Merachesh-Van; Merachesh (flows) Van (water).
4.
Mishnah Taanit 1:3-4.
5.
See, for example, Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 7a.
6.
See, however, Minhagei Vermaisa 234, which says that the people of Worms, Germany, had the custom to call the month Cheshvan when blessing the month.
7.
See, for example, Talmud Sanhedrin 65b.
8.
Sefer Yetzirah 5:4.
9.
See, for example, Zohar 2:275b, 3:260b, Zohar Chodosh 42a.
10.
See Sdei Chemed, Maarechet Chatan U’Kallah 23.
11.
See Esther Rabbah 7:13 and Sdei Chemed, Maarechet Chatan U’Kallah 23.
12.
I Kings 12; see also Sefer Hatodaah.
14.
Pri Chadash, Even Haezor 126:7.
15.
Opinion of Rabbi Eliezer in Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 11b.
16.
Radak on I Kings 6:38.
18.
Yalkut Shemoni, Melachim 184.
19.
Torat Menachem, 5742, vol. 1, p. 353-354; Bnei Yissaschar 2:56-57.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Anonymous November 25, 2016

Beautifully explained! Thanks for posting! Reply

Judy Freedman Hashmonaim, Israel November 24, 2016

Mar One of my sons is born this month and could never understand what was "bitter" about it, it's his birthday month. Reply

Philippe Blumenthal Petach Tikva November 24, 2016

Mar Chesvan The month is not deviod of holidays... for the Ethiopian Jewish Community, Chag Hasigd always falls in Cheshvan and was their most holy day where the whole community would gather at a mountaintop and pray for the return to Israel.... Reply

jim dallas November 23, 2016

numerical i would prefer a numerical accounting, but all are confusing, maybe a simpler world? Reply

Chaim David ben Physhel November 23, 2016

Re: Mar Cheshvan Thanks for this note. In my personal case, this month is the 42nd Yartzeit of my father Z"L, Physhel ben Chaim. Thus, I also consider it a "Mar" "Cheshbone" - the time when I must inadequately (and perhaps bitterly) make a "Chesbonote" (accounting) of my own activities to my dear "Mar" (Father, Teacher and Master). Nevertheless, we say of our dear departed Mothers, Fathers, and others "Zichrono le Bracha" - not just "Of Blessed Memory" but rather "His/Her Memory to a blessing". So - B'Simcha, with joy - we commit b'li Neder, to additional "Brachas" Mitzvot, good deeds, in this month, and in this world; the world they worked so hard in before they departed. Reply

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