To understand what it means to live b’chavana, with intention, let’s consider the opposite: doing things by rote; living on autopilot; habit without awareness. Being satisfied with the same-old, same-old. Not thinking, never mind not thinking outside of the box.

You’re driving down the Edens from Lake-Cook when suddenly you “wake up” and realize that you’re almost downtown and . . . you have no idea how you got there, since you certainly weren’t aware of driving.

Too often, we drive through life like that, only to wake up one day and realize that our lives deserve our attention. To live life, b’chavana, is to become more and more aware of our self and the lives we lead. Having done that, we can choose to remain the same or to change.


Martin Buber is best known for his philosophy of relationship, articulated in his book I and Thou (a book we’ll learn from this year).

Late in Part 2, Buber describes freedom as the exercise of our will – in making a decision, we become free. What we think, what we choose is determined by . . . us. The material world may press in on us; the laws of physics and biology and chemistry may say a lot about who we are and how we behave but, ultimately, we can be intentional about who we want to be and what we want to do.

Living without intention is a kind of slavery. When we make a choice, we leave the Egypt of fate for the freedom of self-determination. If we live on autopilot, we are spiritually dead. We are nothing more than automatons. We free our self and re-enliven our self by choosing to change. We create and recreate our self continually. Or not. But it is a choice.


We want to live authentic lives. We want to be true to our self, our soul. We want to bring the unique perspective, history, gifts, insights, perspectives of our lives to our living. We want to share our true self with other people, particularly family and close friends.

We cannot live authentic lives if we are so bound up in them that we do not take time to step back – to step out from them – to gain perspective from a distance. Authentic lives are ones chosen over, and over again. They are not lived without reflection.

Prayer offers us that opportunity to step out. Shabbat offers us the opportunity to step back. We read the words of prayers that reach for ideals. We learn Torah or hear the words of the rabbi or other teacher and compare them with where we are. We discuss ideas with members of our community and adopt some that will help us to live our lives better. We look within and see ourselves.


Interestingly, Buber refers to this as “returning” – the English (German, in the original) equivalent of the Hebrew teshuva. T’shuva is the central theme of Yom Kippur. Usually translated as “repentance,” it is better understood as returning – returning to our truest self, returning to the soul that God placed within us.

So: Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday of freedom par excellence, even more than Passover! For on Yom Kippur we say to ourselves, God and the world: I do not have to be who I have been, I do not have to do what I’ve done, I can work to remedy the wrong I have done.

To live b’chavana is embodied in the idea that we can choose who and what we want to be, that we can determine what we want to do and what we don’t want to do.

For example: family and friends have been commenting that you don’t really seem to be present when you’re with them. You realize that they’re right, and that you’ve fallen into a bad pattern of doing that. Making the choice to be more attentive is an assertion of your freedom. Changing is the fruit of your choice.

Is change easy? Of course not. But it is possible, and that is the place to begin.


In reflecting on the purpose of the shofar at the Rosh Hashana service, Maimonides says that it is a wake-up call for those going through life like sleepwalkers – awake but not aware.

Our jobs, our children, our tasks around the house – it takes so much just to keep up that, in fact, we sleepwalk through a lot of our lives.

To become aware of the sleepwalking is to live b’chavana.

To make choices that are free is to live b’chavana.

To live with authenticity is to live b’chavana.