Chesvhan is the Moon of Stillness (October/November)
This is the month that invites introspection to allow us to see what we may have forgotten along the way.
Middah & Netivah
- Kavod (כבוד) Honor
- Mekonenet (מקוננת) Mourning Woman
- Seder (סדר) Order
- Dan L’kaf Zechut (דן לכף זכות) Judging Others Favorably
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Kavod (כבוד) Honor
In the world of Mussar, kavod is translated as honor, respect, or dignity. I think Edith Brotman phrases it beautifully in her book Mussar Yoga:
Honor means to recognize the Divine presence in another, to see the intrinsic value and worth of another being.
Kavod is about having fundamental respect for the existence of a being — simply because that being exists. This not only refers to other beings, but also to ourselves. Tied up with Kavod are the ideas/soul-traits of “judging others favorably” (dan l’kaf zechut), humility (anavah), and love (ahavah). Like all soul-traits too much or too little is not ideal. Healthy kavod means that you are not always asking “what about me” or “why not me” or judging your follower count against someone else’s or truly coveting some award or external recognition. Healthy kavod also means that you respect yourself and set clear boundaries and practice self-compassion, self-love, and self-care.
So why kavod (כבוד) in the month of Cheshvan, what does this have to do with the Mekonenet (Mourning Woman)?
The month of Elul is the month where we, in theory, search and scour our souls for the ways we missed the mark in the year that is coming to an end — and hopefully practice self-compassion and acknowledge where we did okay too. Then comes Tishrei — it’s a flurry of activity! First is Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, then Sukkot, then Shemini Atzeret, then Simchat Torah. We spend the month (especially the beginning) focusing on t’shuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah — working to adjust or set how we’re written into the Book of Life (or not).
Then there’s Cheshvan and everything stops.
In Cheshvan, we’re left with ourselves. All those goals, affirmations, resolutions – now we see if we’re going to live them or if it was really just performative. This is the month where it comes home. Will we honor all that we said we’d do? Do we respect G!d/dess and ourselves enough to really make change? Do we not just spiral into self-doubt and judgement? Do we judge others and go back to craving external validation?
The best way to honor a blessing is to be a blessing.Mpumi Nobiva
The connection to the Mekonent, Mourning Woman, becomes clear to me as soon as I look at what our Torah portions are this month. We begin with Noah, and the destruction of the planet that ends with Noah having such terrible survivor’s guilt that he drowns himself in drink. Then we have the terrible passage where Sarah turns on Hagar and casts her and Ishmael out – and Abraham failing his first test in not arguing with G!d/dess or finding a way to ensure the safety of his whole family. Then we end with the akedah – the binding of Isaac and the death of Sarah. For me there is not really a question why we need the support and guidance of the Mekonenet.
There is a teaching in an old edition of the Kohenet Siddur (prayer book) that “the word mekonenet means ‘one who laments’ but can also mean ‘one who makes a nest.’ The mekonenet represents sorrow, but can also guide us to rebirth. … She acknowledges the power of destruction and the power of healing.” In this month of stillness where there are no holidays, after we’ve scrubbed and scoured our souls, and we read about destruction and death — who better to help us release whatever we still hold so we can be healed (or healing) through the winter months.
The mourning woman is the keeper of grief and also the bringer of comfort. She acknowledges the seasons of loss and prepares us for what will come. Mourning-priestesses give voice to the love we have for what once was, and teach us ways to carry that love into the future.(The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership)
And how does this connect back to kavod? The greatest way to show respect, dignity, or honor is how we treat the dead and those in mourning. There is a practice in Judaism called “K’vod HaMet” – which you can learn more about in the Community Wisdom section. We receive honor by giving honor first. Whether it’s being respectful of people in liminal states (including ourselves) or simply doing our best to really see people we encounter. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro says in his commentary on Pirkei Avot 4:1, “just a cube of sugar sweetens a whole cup of tea, so honoring the One honors all, and honoring all honors the One; there is no separation between the two.” (Read passage on Sefaria.org)
Nobody created their own soul; everybody has been gifted with a rarefied essence.(Rabbi Chaiam of Volozhin)
I learned some of my most important lessons about kavod, from the spiritual community that I co-founded and co-lead for ten years, Becoming. In that community we had a practice called “The Divine Heart Mudra.” In this practice, you had to look deeply into another person’s eyes in the community, physically touch their heart (as they touched yours) and say – “I honor and cherish the Divine within you and the connection between us.” And we would stand in a circle and pass this from person to person, and witness others before and after our turn to speak. This was a HUGE struggle for some people, because you didn’t always really like the person. Sometimes you didn’t even know that person, if they were new to the community. But it was about honoring the spark of Divine we all carry in us and really showing respect for that alone.
It’s worth noting that in some teachings the Shekhinah, the indwelling Divine Presence, is referred to with the word kavod (כבוד). Each being you encounter is the body of the Divine and by acting with respect towards all —you are embodying the Divine.
As I think about the sacred connection of kavod in this time, place, season – this moment on the spiral of time — the climate crisis comes to mind. Maybe it is really a kavod crisis. If we truly treated each other, the animals, plants, oceans, air, and land with dignity, respect and honor — would we be in this situation?
Imagine if we all truly experienced and interacted with all beings through the filter of kavod. Isn’t this part of what the indigeneous peoples of the world are trying to help us see? This is a teaching that is native to Judaism, too. We merit honor by giving honor.
At this moment in time…
- WHAT does Kavod / Honor, Respect, Dignity mean to you?
- WHO have you learned your most important lessons about Kavod from, to date?
- HOW do you behave when you are acting from a place of kavod?
- WHEN are moments when focus on the need for kavod or recognize a lack of it?
- WHY is it important that you treat others with kavod?
- WHERE can you find ways of strengthening a healthy balance of kavod in your soul?
- WHICH other soul-traits can help you work on kavod?
- Who is honored? One who honors others. (Pirkei Avot 4:1, translation by Rami Shapiro)
- Nobody created their own soul; everybody has been gifted with a rarefied essence. (Rabbi Chaiam of Volozhin)
- Honor means to recognize the Divine presence in another, to see the intrinsic value and worth of another being. (Edith Brotman, Mussar Yoga)
- The mourning woman is the keeper of grief and also the bringer of comfort. She acknowledges the seasons of loss and prepares us for what will come. Mourning-priestesses give voice to the love we have for what once was and teach us ways to carry that love into the future. (The Hebrew Priestess)
- Mourning Woman-Priestess chapter of The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer and Rav Kohenet Taya Ma
from the Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle
- I remember. I release. I transform.
- I bring comfort to those who mourn.
- I am a keeper of grief.
- Honor your body and the stillness of the month through breathwork practices.
- Greet everyone you meet with respect, including yourself when you see your reflection in a mirror.
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