Today is Rosh Chodesh Mar-Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Mar-Cheshvan, which is the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar. (The count of the months begins with Nisan.) Although the month is named Mar-Cheshvan, it is more commonly referred to as Cheshvan.

During Mar-Cheshvan, the Jews celebrate…well, actually nothing. The uniqueness of the month is that it has no festivals, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day. In fact, its lack of holidays is why it is named Mar-Cheshvan; Mar means bitter.

The eighth month was not always called Mar-Cheshvan, which is a word most probably of Babylonian origin (as are many of the names of the months). When mentioned in Biblical sources it is referred to either as “the eighth month” or Bool (see I Kings 6:38), a word closely related to the Hebrew word mabool, meaning flood.

According to tradition, the 17th of Cheshvan was the start of the great flood that took place in the time of Noah and destroyed the world. Just over a year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family discovered that the waters of the flood had completely receded.

The kabbalists also believe that Cheshvan is the month in which the Messiah will arrive. However, in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a, Rabbi Zeera tries to discourage such calculations by quoting an earlier teaching that “Three things come from nowhere: Moshiach (the Messiah), a found article and [the bite of] a scorpion.” The mention of the scorpion is interesting because Cheshvan is associated with the zodiacal sign of the scorpion.

This Treat was first published on October 19, 2009.

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