Living Intentionally

When I was 15, I went to an overnight Yeshiva summer program in Italy, where I met a counselor who continues to have an impact on my life today. He is, in a word, a mashpia. A spiritual mentor. He is someone I can call to get guidance when facing spiritual or personal dilemmas. I do call him, and he is there for me. He is honest and wise and discreet, he is my friend.

I bumped into my mentor this past weekend in New York at a large Chabad conference and I had the opportunity to reconnect with him a bit, and was reminded of some of our good times together. I gave him a lift in my car and due to NY traffic a short ride turned into an hour long discussion.

I heard some of what is going on in his life, and shared with him much of what is going on in mine. I told him I am on a journey to live more intentionally. I am too old to be reactive all the time. I share that I am working on having intention in everything that I am doing. I find, I told him, that when I make a decision, good or bad, then I feel better about my life. I don’t look over my shoulder second guessing or thinking that it might have been better elsewhere. I don’t have “FOMO” or fear of missing out, because I am living intentionally. So where I am, I am completely, including in my head, and certainly in my body.This is a modern application of a well known chassidic discipline, Ah Chassid, vu er iz, iz er ingantzen – A Chassid, where he finds himself, he is there in entirety.

Obviously this is not always easy, and often I need to recalibrate to get back to this centering thought tool, it is a truth and perhaps one day, this may become an involuntary muscle that can operate with this intentionality more naturally.

Friday afternoon, on this same weekend conference I found myself walking down the main drag in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn heading to the large Shul where thousands (literally) go to pray, and bumped into my mentor friend again. This friend is saying Kaddish for his late father so he needed to lead the service at the afternoon Mincha Prayer.

This process requires a minyan of ten, so he asked me and the handful of others heading down the street to be part of his minyan when we entered the Shul building. He led the services flawlessly, easily reading the prayers that he must have said many thousands of times.

I watched and was transported to a time when he didn’t read so smoothly.

Some 25 years ago, when I had first met this man in Italy, he would teach us Torah, however then he had a lilt in his voice as he articulated each word very very slowly, and with a soft musical melody as he read the words.

Blog 44/52

Photo Credit Psychology Today


Trade-off – Definition – a balance achieved between two desirable but incompatible features; a compromise

Life is full of trade offs. Everyone knows that. What we often don’t realize is the depth to which it guides and can help our lives.

I travelled to New York this week for a quick visit to celebrate the engagement of my niece, the first grandchild of my in-laws to get engaged. In Torah-observant circles this is a major event and a large community party is held to celebrate.

My office assistant, when hearing that I’d be out of town, mentioned something to the effect of “you guys are always going away for many fun simchas.”

She is right, we do get to have many family celebrations but that too comes at a cost I explained to her. A “trade-off” that I’d gladly make again and again. The fact of the matter is, we do have large families, and if you simply do the math, if I have 11 siblings and my wife has 10, that is 21 opportunities for weddings, hundreds of bris(im) or baby naming celebrations, hundreds of bar mitzvah parties, and so on.

There is a price paid for that though, because the families are large, there is usually less personal space, roommates are almost inevitable, there is less money available for some of the luxuries of life. You have to work harder to be heard, or to get what you want.

However, are any of those truly a bad thing? Forced interactions makes you more social and resilient. Learning to work hard to be heard or get those extras that your parents cannot provide teaches work ethic and the value of money. Learning to speak smart and wise rather than loud. And so on.

In fact, I mentioned to my assistant that while many American’s can afford the time, money or simply the strategic ability (someone to watch their kids, or to bring them along) to get away on an annual or twice a year multi-week vacation, for us, given our family dynamic, getting away for a night or a two by ourselves costs us more on the home front, holding down the fort than the vacation itself. Alternatively, bringing the crew along can raise the costs of a getaway by six or seven times depending on how many kids you bring with you.

But this is a trade-off that we gladly make. The price is worth it.

At work we make trade-offs, more hours or overtime for more pay. Or less, in the pocket but more family time and more time in the heart.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong but an awareness that every decision has a consequence. What do we choose?

This trade-off enters the religious observance domain as well. I can choose to lead a more Torah-centric life along with the perceived limitations and restrictions it imposes on my life but celebrate the reward of a life full of meaning and purpose.

There are no rules, that a religious person will have eternal happiness and meaning and wealthy people will have eternal luxury but eternal unhappiness or lack of purpose, and as Tevya might have said, “Isn’t Gd so great that he could provide us with all?” And he’d be right. I pray that we all have the best and most of everything. The reality is that that is a utopian dream that for the most part doesn’t exist. To quote Dennis Prager’s mom, “The only people I know who are completely happy, are people I don’t know too well.”

Until such a point that we can have it all, we have to make choices.

Should I risk that money for a large investment? The payout may be huge or I may lose pants…..

Avraham made a choice. He chose to go against the grain and be a maverick monotheist at a time when absolutely no one else was doing it. Even his father worshipped idols and reported on his “wayward” son for breaking the mold (and his idols). He took a great risk, he made a trade-off.

He chose to live purposefully and mindfully and dedicate his days to spreading that message with the world. In so doing, he lost many friends and family members, and had to live in isolation for much of the time. I am sure if we could ask him, he’d tell us that it was the best choice he ever made.

So, life is full of trade-offs. Make sure to choose wisely. It is OK to trade some of the material things for a deeper existence. Grandpa Avraham did it, and so can we.

Blog 43/52 Photos Courtesy #Starbucks Baristas