Here we are once again. It’s Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan. Calling Chodesh Cheshvan “mar” (bitter) has always felt a bit insulting to me. I was born in Cheshvan, so if Cheshvan is mar, what does that say about me? Yes, I know, it’s called MarCheshvan because there are no chagim this month. Fine. So I don’t have to be insulted. But truthfully, I have my own secret reason why Cheshvan is considered mar.
I love the season of the chagim. Although this year the circumstances were quite unusual, I typically love the spiritual awakening, the special foods, the fun tiyulim, and especially the family time. Family time in the sukkah lends itself to great bonding and glorious memories. But as the season of the chagim starts to come to an end, I begin my own silent countdown.
Five more days until the boys go back to yeshivah… four more days… three more days. And so on. We try to maximize our time together, but eventually, the eating, singing, davening, traveling, visiting, and just plain hanging come to an abrupt end and it’s Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan. The sounds of rolling suitcases can be heard on the street, and in a flash the boys are back in their habitat.
Since the day each of my children was born, I have thought about the day they each will get married and leave home. Believe it or not, I actually cried when my oldest had his first bath. You see, it meant that he was growing up and getting that much closer to the moment when he would have to leave home. I also had an emotional outburst when that same child was moved from a bassinet (right next to my bed) to a crib (all the way on the other side of my night table). I knew what that meant.
However, as much as I thought about my children getting married and moving on, nobody clued me in to the fact that boys move out way before they get married. As far off as their wedding may seem, their early departure from the cozy nest takes one by surprise and happens much more quickly than one would expect. This is why, as much as I try to push the feeling aside, I can feel the anticipation of Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan in the pit of my stomach days before it arrives. In this way, it is a bit mar.
And it is for this reason that I am writing to myself an open letter:
Remember that you are part of a chain of inspiring women who have sent their sons off to learn in much more difficult circumstances than you. Remember Chanah, who finally had a child after years of waiting and heartfelt davening and then sent him away at the tender age of three. Remember the m’sirus nefesh of generations of mothers who sent their sons off to learn when it was extremely dangerous, often putting their lives at risk. And don’t forget about mothers who sent their sons to learn abroad when travel was not easy as it is today. In Europe, boys went to learn in yeshivos far from home, not knowing when they would see their families again. And there were no cell phones back then to help keep in touch.
Indeed, your father-in-law celebrated his bar mitzvah on his own in yeshivah, without anyone from his family at his side. Those are true sacrifices.
Who am I to complain? Remember, this is what we want! Of course we love our boys, but we also love the Torah. What more do we want than for our boys to love the Torah, as well? This is what we daven for every day when we say “V’Haarev na.” This is the goal of all of our efforts and energy.
When I keep these things in mind, I realize that Cheshvan is anything but mar. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It should be called “RamCheshvan.” “Ram” means high, lofty. I feel proud and elevated to be part of this lofty group of women. I can hold my head up high as I send my sons off to learn and bring nachas ruach to Hashem in the process. Now I just have to remember to once again read this letter to myself come next Cheshvan.
(This article was previously published in the Jewish Press.)
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.