What Flavor Jew Are You?
In honor of the social media crash this week, I'd like to offer you a Facebook-style personality test. Yidden come in different flavors: What kind of Jew are you?
Mind you, I'm not talking about the color of your kippah, the length of your sleeves or your Hashkafa (whatever that means). I'm not even talking about your choice of cuisine. I'm talking about what excites you, what animates you and what drives you in the world of Judaism
In general, I'd like to suggest, there are three primary primary flavors of Jews. Each one exemplified by the emotions in the Jewish calendar. Each Jew, to a certain extent, embodies one of these three – or perhaps a combination.
The Elul Yid: We all know this Jew. We regard them with awe, respect, and sometimes a little cynicism. This is Jew who lives his or her life with the persistent, ever present understanding that Yom HaDin is coming. Every action must be performed meticulously, every mitzvah with alacrity. Time is short, and there is much to be achieved. This Jew holds themselves to the highest standards in mitzvah observance. The Elul Yid holds themselves accountable for everything, and by extension, hold you accountable as well.
The Adar Yid: These Yidden are the most fun always living a life of simcha. The Adar Yid knows that the only way to over come a challenge is to sing, dance and laugh. He or she excels at bringing simcha to others. Every mitzvah is an opportunity, every day a new moment to celebrate. They make joy seem so effortless, you wonder what their secret might be. Sometimes the Adar Yid drives you crazy and you wish you could borrow those rose colored glasses for a moment.
The Av Yid: I used to make fun of the Av Yidden, with their serious demeanor, and kill-joy attitude. Av Yidden are not always easy to be around. But truth is, the Av Yid knows all too well that there is pain in this world, that can only be remedied with sensitivity, compassion and empathy. The Av Yid understands that life is short, and that things often don't work out the way we planned. The Av Yid find comfort and meaning in getting through it together. Most importantly, the Av Yid takes responsibility for the world around them, and lives to make it better.
Think of the members of your family. Who are the Elul, Adar and Av Jews closest to you? If you think about it for a moment, you might be able to assess what kind of Yid you are – or at least the ingredients.
Our calendar contains many hybrid emotions as well. Each month and Yom Tov carries a unique a flavor profile, a bouquet of emotions. By the time the year is complete, we will have engaged every Yid, every emotion, every flavor.
Of course, all except for Mar-Cheshvan. The most boring month of the year. Cheshvan is the sugar-free, gluten-free, flavor-free month of the year. If Tishrei is a five course steak dinner, Cheshvan is unsalted kale chips. (And don't you dare tell me that anyone actually enjoys kale!)
But for me, the monotony of Cheshvan is a personal embarrassment. My birthday is in Cheshvan. Growing up, it was a major disappointment, especially considering that my older brother’s birthday is on the 18th of Elul.
Chai Elul might be the most celebrated Jewish Birthday in the world today. It's the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, as well as the Alter Rebbe of Chabad. It’s also the Yahrzeit of the Maharal. In short, it’s quite illustrious. Cheshvan, in comparison, is quite literally the most boring, tedious, and unexciting of all months. It's the epitome of uneventful. Day after long day of the same. Week after week of routine, habits and monotony.
And it begs the question: Couldn’t the Torah have spread the love a little more evenly?
The Bnei Yissaschar explains, however, that this month, more than any other, contains within it the greatest promise, as well as the greatest challenges.
The Medrash (ילקוט שמעוני מלכים סימן קפד) explains that Chodesh Mar-Cheshvan is the month in which we will one day rebuild and rededicate the Beis Hamikdash. But the Navi (מלכים ב׳ יז:כא) tells us that it's also the month that our people became tragically and irreparably fractured. It's the month that Yerovam ben Nevat split off to form the Northern kingdom following the death of Shlomo HaMelech.
What is the source of the great potential of this month? The answer might best be found in understanding Parshas Noach.
Noach is a polarizing figure in Chazal. On the one hand, the Torah calls him a tzadik, but the pasuk then qualifies, “in his generation”.
Rashi, famously notes this dispute: Was Noach a tzadik only when compared to the evil doers of his generation, or perhaps in spite of them?
This dispute bothered me for a long time, it is unlike Chazal to attempt to defame a someone who the Torah calls a Tzadik. Give him the benefit of the doubt!
But, of course, if Chazal saw within Noach a complex, and nuanced person. Noach is us. Noach is the Cheshvan Yid.
Allow me to explain. Noach grows up in a world of moral decay and depravity. Noach, alone, realizes the decrepitness of such society, and is thus chosen by Hashem to build an ark, so that life may be spared.
For over a century, Noach builds and builds, fending off ridicule, excommunication and social ostracism. Yet he perseveres. When the flood waters descend, he, along with his family, are tasked with taking care of the needs of every animal – a job he does with compassion and dedication.
And then the flood is over, and Noach steps out into a new world, free of depravity, cleansed from the mistakes of the past, and is given carte blanch to build the world as he sees fit.
But here begins Noach's real challenge. His Cheshvan has arrived, and the world is open to him. He no longer needs to act in reaction to, but now proactively. There are no cues, no foils, not problems. Noach is handed the blank check of a brave new world.
It is in this wide open space that he plants a vineyard, harvests his grapes and gets drunk. With nothing to react to, Noach is lost. He knows how to be an Elul tzadik, a Tishrei tzadik. But the real challenge is Cheshvan.
In 1978, Rav Soloveitchik delivered a lecture at M.I.T, later printed in Tradition, as “Catharsis”. In that essay, he develops the idea of the heroism of normative life. He explains that living according the values and details of Halacha with its demands and relentlessness is heroic.
“It is less spectacular than the death of an Achiles; yet it is more heroic, more redeeming, because it is performed in humility and in the hush of a dark night of loneliness.”
In essence, the Rav is speaking about the Cheshvan Yid. The world of limitless untapped potential lies in the slow burn; the steady methodical transformation of ourselves and the world around us.
So Hashem asks us now: What kind of Jew are you proactively? What fills you time and fuels your life during the long nights of Cheshvan? The answer to this question is perhaps the most challenging of our lives. If given the time, given the chance, given the blank slate, who will we become? Who do we wish to become?
This is the month to build the Beis HaMikdash of our lives. To add our bricks, to make our changes. Hashem should help us to make this the greatest month of our lives.