The Hebrew month of Cheshvan is by far my favorite month of the year—and not only because my birthday falls in Cheshvan. Cheshvan comes after summer vacation, after the busyness and excitement of the High Holidays. It’s a time to settle down and get things done. The kids are back at school, and it’s possible to create and maintain a schedule.
I am fascinated by the balance between being and doing. It’s easy to feel important, significant, when you are accomplishing something. When you are done with your “doing,” you can look back and take pride and satisfaction in having achieved. At least for a moment you can feast your eyes on the project you have completed for work, or the neatly stacked piles of family laundry. The Western world certainly has great respect for doing and accomplishing. Our accomplishments make our bank accounts stable and our homes pleasant.
The Western world certainly has great respect for doing and accomplishingOn the other hand, what would a life look like if it were only about doing, with no emphasis on being? I would define “being” as those moments when you just “are.” You stop trying to accomplish long enough to appreciate what you have. It could be a long walk with a husband, or a moment in the playground with the children.
I look forward to a moment of being each Shabbat when I light my candles. After rushing around the whole day to prepare the food and clean the home, I stop. I gather my three little girls around me, and we prepare to light the candles. My girls watch with wide eyes and open hearts as I strike a match and light the flames. Together we wave our hands in the air, sending light to family and friends in faraway places around the world. I make the blessing, with their sweet voices echoing mine, ushering in the holiness of Shabbat. Then I pull each of them in close and say a special prayer for them for the present and the future, ending with a kiss and a Shabbat treat.
In that moment, there is nothing left to accomplish. I have worked hard, but my work is done. Whoever said that a woman’s work is never done was right, with one exception. We can decide that for now we will take a break from doing and just be, and for that moment, in my mind and heart, the work both in the home and outside of it simply do not exist. For now, time is mine—to just be.
Personally, I’m more comfortable doing. Really, I like to do. Doing allows me to enjoy the moments of being later. It is much harder to enjoy moments of quiet when I can’t look back at a week and mentally take note of what I have accomplished. When I am doing, I am a partner in creation. G‑d created the world, and I am creating a reality within my life and my home through my doing.
In the time of King Solomon, the Jewish people labored for seven years to build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Their work was finally completed in the month of Cheshvan. The Holy Temple epitomized the balance between doing and being. There were many detailed commandments about how the Temple must be built, and how one must go about bringing a sacrifice, a korban, in the Temple. A pilgrim would spend the year raising his flocks and tending his orchards and vineyards before choosing the choicest of his accomplishments to bring to the Temple, yet the goal of all of the work and preparation was the moment of being that happened during the korban. A soul that had done all it must to prepare to come close to its Creator could, for a moment, just bask in the light and the depth of that connection.
Doing allows me to enjoy the moments of being laterInterestingly, we learn what work is prohibited on Shabbat from the work that was done to build and maintain the service in the Holy Temple. We don’t create fire on Shabbat, as fire was kindled on the altar. We do not build on Shabbat, as we built the Temple, and we do not wash clothing, as the wool was washed and cleaned to create the beautiful tapestries that decorated the Temple. Thirty-nine types of labor were included in building the Temple, and the commentaries tells us that those are the same types of labor that G‑d used when creating the world. An interesting question arises: These thirty-nine types of work are clearly holy and important, since they are the foundations of creation and were essential in forming the place where G‑d’s presence was revealed in this world. Our sages teach that, in fact, doing these types of labor is very important, and when we work in the world using them to do good, we are indeed partners with the Creator. If so, on Shabbat, why do we stop doing them?
Shabbat is a time to be. When we stop doing, we are able to appreciate who we are and what we have. When we are being, we are able to notice the people in our lives, and not push them out of the way as we run to another meeting, or to pick up the phone, or to the carpool. When we are being, we are able to feel that we are intrinsically more than just the sum of our accomplishments. In being, the soul shines.
When we stop, we acknowledge that there is an internal factor to our lives. The six days of the week have been compared to the six directions: right, left, front, back, up and down. The seventh, Shabbat, is the inner dimension. On the holy Shabbat we are able to see and acknowledge that life pushes and pulls us in many directions in order to enhance our inner essence and divine connection. So while doing may be important, it is only while we are being that we assess where our doing has gotten us, and where we truly need to be.
In my rush to accomplish, I have pushed aside my nearest and dearestStill, like I said, I’m a doer. To be honest, there have been times in my life that my doing has gotten out of hand. In my rush to accomplish, I have pushed aside my nearest and dearest. Now I am glad that no matter how crazy things get, I have a weekly reminder that doing is not the end goal in and of itself. Over the years, the ability to stop doing and to be has seeped into my consciousness enough that, while I may be feeling very driven and enthusiastic about an important project, I am able to stop myself and go into “being mode” when my children rush in the door and are excited to tell me about their day—at least sometimes!
So I love the month of Cheshvan. All my schedules and lists come out, and everything that was pushed aside for summer vacation and the holiday rush finally gets my full attention. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about it another time, but for now, I’ve got things to do . . .