When first I shared my vision for this community with you, I explained that I chose the name B’Chavana – intentional – because I wanted this to be a community designed with intent and because I wanted to support people in their desire to live lives of meaning.
As we begin our tenth year, I thought I might return to the original concept of intentionality and explore it with you. And what better time to do that than during this month of Elul, beginning tonight, that will lead us right up to Rosh Hashana? Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, those annual occasions to reflect on our lives: where we’ve been; where we are; where we’re going. If that isn’t at the heart of living an intentional life. . .
My intent, then – pun intended – is to give you food for thought so that you can begin to reflect now in preparation for those ten days of spiritual intensity. After today’s introduction, I’ll write four more posts during Elul as a meditation on my understanding of what it means to live b’chavana – an intentional and, hence, meaningful life.
Socrates & Torah on Living Intentionally
Socrates taught his students that a life unexamined was a life not worth living. And the starting place, he added, was in the injunction “Know thyself.” Before examining the world surrounding us, and the people with whom we interact, it is important to turn inward – to explore our self and to reflect on the self that we find.
To that, Torah would add the words we see frequently over the Aron Ha-kodesh (Holy Ark): “Da lifney mi atah omeyd – know before Whom you stand.” No matter what kind of God you believe in, or don’t, the notion that there is a higher standard against which to measure one’s life is common to both atheist and believer. Put simply: we know that we can do better. We know that the world can be made better.
A Jewish tradition instructs that when a person goes for final judgment, she will be judged on three things – b’kisa, b’kosa, u-v’ka’asa. Literally, this means by her pocket, her cup, and her anger.
B’kisa, her pocket: How did she handle her money? Did she do nothing else but chase after wealth? Was she stingy? Did she support worthwhile institutions? Did she share with poor people that she passed on the street?
B’kosa, her cup: how did she approach food and drink? Was it in moderation or was she given over to eating and drinking excessively? Could she “handle her liquor” or was she drinking too much? How did she relate to the material stuff of life in general? Was it all about acquiring more, and bigger, and better? Or was it about framing that with a deep and rich spiritual life?
B’ka’asa, her anger: how did she manage her emotions . . . or did they manage her? Did she erupt at the slightest provocation? Was she able to share happiness and love? Was her emotional experience of life one that enriched her soul? Did it enrich those around her?
The Questions We (Can) Ask Ourselves
Asking “what can I do better” is a good place to start. How can I live a better life? How can I live better this life with which I have been gifted?
Can I be more appreciative? More hopeful? More helpful to someone else? Can I act in ways that are kinder, more moral, more virtuous?
What kind of citizen am I? What do I contribute to the welfare of my community?
Asking “what can I repair” is another good avenue. Where have I done something wrong? Where have I hurt another? Where has another wronged me, and I have refused to entertain her apology? Are there relationships that I’m not satisfied with, and what might I do to change that?
Where We’re At, Now
These are perennial spiritual issues. They are not new to humanity, nor to us. But some questions might be new to us.
Many of us in the B’Chavana community are at an age of transition.
We are soon to begin, or already have begun, to wrap up the middle years of our lives. We look back at careers, at children raised, at friends made. We reflect on them and count many successes and more than a few failures.
And we look forward as well. We are beginning what we hope will be a long and healthy, fruitful and enjoyable last act of our life. What will it be like? How long do I want to work? What dreams have I not yet realized? What wisdom would I like to impart to my children and others that I love?
Virginia is for Lovers; Elul is for Live-ers
These questions perhaps flit in and out of consciousness from time to time. Elul is the time to capture them for reflection and answers.
To live, and live authentically, as I will address next week, is to take charge of one’s life to give it direction. It is the opposite of sleepwalking – it is to be aware of who we are and aren’t, of what we’ve done and haven’t, and to make choices about who we want to be and what we want to do.
This is a lifelong project, but it is especially alive for us during this High Holiday season that begins with Elul and stretches through Yom Kippur.
I look forward to sharing this month with you via these words I write and the gatherings we’ll have.
PS: For an invaluable resource for reflection, you might try the book This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared by Rabbi Alan Lew, z’l, brought to our attention by Rachel Levin.