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Cheshvan: No Holidays, but Plenty of Important Dates of Commemoration

Part 1

Firstly, it is hard to believe we are already at Parshat Noach and past the jam-packed month of Tishrei. I hope all of you spent the chagim in a meaningful and joyful manner.

This month, known as Cheshvan, is also referred to as MarCheshvan. Where does the “mar” come from? Well, there is a pshat answer and a remez (or drush) answer. Pshat is that it derives from Akkadian waraḫsamnu, which literally means “eighth month” (if you recall, the Talmud states that the names of the months were brought by the Jews when they returned to Israel from Babylonia; indeed, the original Israelite name of this month seems to have been “Bul,” which may be related to mabul. See further).

Others have linked the “mar” with its Hebrew homonym meaning bitter. This refers to the fact that the month of Cheshvan does not contain any holidays or any major days of commemoration (after all, Av is supposed to be the saddest month of the year, yet it is not called MarAv).

Well, I have news for you: The month of Cheshvan may not contain any biblical or major rabbinic holidays, but it does contain no less than three (now extinct) Mishnaic-era holidays and no less than seven Purims! In addition, there are many other important commemorative dates both ancient and modern.

At the outset, it is important to note a delicious“coincidence” wherein several of the events that are described in our first two parshiot occured around this time.

Let us begin with the mabul, the Great Deluge. There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud regarding the exact dates of the mabul. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the flood commenced on the 17th of Cheshvan and ceased completely on the 27th of the month (his colleague Rabbi Yehoshua demurs and places these dates in the following month).

In addition, according to the Tanna Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta in his Seder Olam, Sunday, October 7, corresponds to the date on which God created the world in 3761 BCE. This marks the start of the modern Hebrew calendar.

And now to the Purims. Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Geller describes this phenomenon thus:

Various communities and families have celebrated a certain day of the year on which a miracle happened to them, such as being delivered from dire straits, a harsh decree, murder, a pogrom, an earthquake, fire or other disaster, and proclaimed a special celebration, Purim Katan (Minor Purim), on that particular date. The celebratory day would be preceded by fasting, and on the day itself a feast of thanksgiving would be held for Torah scholars, charity given, candles lit as on the festivals, Psalms and Al ha-Nisim recited, passages from commemorative scrolls read in synagogue, liturgical poems marking the miracle recited, a day taken off from work, and mishloach manot as well as gifts to the poor be distributed.  The day thus marked was passed down to future generations as a time of celebration.

Let us begin in chronological order:

1 Cheshvan:

*Although not a Purim, a significant event worth noting: King Solomon completed the construction of the Temple (although he did not dedicate it until the following month).

*Purim Posen, 1704. I have seen various dates proposed for this particular Purim, including the second and third of Cheshvan. Background: A coalition of Polish, Russian and Saxon soldiers bombarded this city on the Polish-German border with thousands of cannon balls in order to oust the Swedish occupiers. The Swedes tasked the Jewish inhabitants of the city with picking up the shells, many of which were still smoking, and miraculously nobody was injured or killed. The community therefore decided to declare a day of fasting followed by a day of festivities and merrymaking.

2 Cheshvan:

*Purim Shiraz (also known as Moed Katan), 12th century. Background: The Jews of Shiraz, Persia, were accused of blasphemy against Islam and were compelled to convert. The charges stemmed from a certain Jewish butcher who sought vengeance against his fellow Jews for losing his business after he was accused of selling non-kosher meat. Said butcher had a change of heart on his deathbed and confessed that he had fabricated the charge. The result was that the Jews were allowed to return to their faith. It was decreed that this day would be commemorated as a holiday for generations to come.

4 Cheshvan:

*Purim Edom (called also Purim al-Naāra), 1541. Background: King Charles V. of Spain attempted to seize Algiers. The Spaniards landed, amid the deep fears of the multitudes of Jews including many Sephardim whose fathers had escaped the Iberian Peninsula and its brutal regime. During the siege, the Spanish fleet was suddenly caught up in a storm and was completely decimated. This victory was attributed to the prayers of Rabbi Solomon Duran, grandson of the celebrated Solomon ben Simon Duran. The Jews thus escaped the fanaticism of the Spaniards and they instituted a Purim.

*Purim Bosnia (also known as Purim de Sarajevo), 1819. Background: The corrupt Pasha (Turkish-appointed ruler) decided to arrest the rabbi of the community, Rabbi Moshe Danon, along with 12 other notables and demanded an exorbitant sum of ransom from the Jewish community. Miraculously, the local Muslims staged a vigorous protest and demanded that he free the Jews. Eventually he had to escape and the prisoners were freed. The community of Sarajevo declared this day as a day of Purim and they read from a scroll known as the Megillat Sarajevo.

To be continued…

By Joel S. Davidi Weisberger

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