What a Month without Holidays Teaches us about Leadership

Photo by Melissa Kelsey Photography

By Rabbi Jay Henry Moses and Rabba Yaffa Epstein

After a Tishrei bursting with holidays (and interrupted by them!), we begin the month known colloquially as Cheshvan – the eighth month of the Jewish calendar. Historical sources point to the correct name for the month: Marcheshvan, a name from the ancient Akkadian language. In several traditional Jewish sources, we are taught – erroneously – that the original name of the month was Cheshvan and the “Mar” was added on to signify that the month was somehow bitter due to the lack of “special” days, or holidays.

By this token, we situate the month in reference to Tishrei – a month that is full of highs and lows, repentance, renewal, deep soul searching, intense joy and the beginning of the Torah cycle – as the main event. In that light, Cheshvan is a sad month lacking in the engagement and emotional intensity of the High Holidays.

Instead of this month feeling empty, what if we used it as an opportunity to learn about the power, beauty and necessity of a routine?

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook teaches that one of our greatest spiritual opportunities is Bechol Drachechecha Da’ehu: “in all of your ways you shall know God.” He says, “when a person tries with all of her intellect and abilities to do that which she is doing with complete presence, totally focused, she will know God.” He shows us that interacting with the divine is possible in every mundane aspect of our lives. All that is needed is focus and presence.

This is the gift of the month of Cheshvan: a time to focus and be present. To get started on those projects we have been pushing off or adopt a new healthy daily habit. An opportunity to put into practice all of those hopes and dreams that we prayed for in Tishrei. With full work weeks and no distractions, we can focus on the work at hand: on bringing the divine into our work and into our routines.

In many ways, the Wexner Heritage Program is like Cheshvan, in that it is about helping lay people to see that every day, and every step of the way, we can add meaning and vision to our work on behalf of the Jewish community. Our program aims to expand the vision of Jewish volunteer leaders, deepen their Jewish knowledge and confidence, and inspire them to exercise transformative leadership in the Jewish community.

We are often asked why Jewish learning is such a core part of our leadership training program. To us, the answer is obvious.

Some of the work of Jewish leadership can be a grind: the routine of budgets and by-laws, marketing campaigns and fundraising asks. Jewish learning helps us put into practice what Rav Kook taught us: that we must elevate the mundane and embrace the possibility that every single moment can be holy. We don’t need the ups (and sometimes downs) of the Jewish calendar to experience holiness. Educated and inspired leaders can find those moments in board meetings or community work to reframe challenges in terms of Jewish ideas and meaning. Exercising Jewishly-inspired leadership means helping others see the beauty in the mundane and the potential for holiness and depth in every day.

Cheshvan teaches us that an enriched and inspired routine is about embracing habits and systems that create the framework for excellence. The Jewish people need and deserve no less.

We encourage you to give the gift of the Wexner Heritage Program, to help inspire and enrich the Jewish leaders of today and tomorrow. Nominations are due for three upcoming Wexner Heritage classes in Portland, OR, Cleveland and New England (New Haven, Hartford and Western MA).

To learn more about the Wexner Heritage Program and to nominate candidates in those communities, please click here.

Rabbi Jay Henry Moses is the Vice President of The Wexner Foundation.
Rabba Yaffa Epstein is the Director of the Wexner Heritage Program at the Wexner Foundation.