The Heart of Intention

Rosh Hashonah begins in 5 days, and coincides this year with Shabbat. I am focused on how I hope to set myself up for a good year. As we light the candles on Friday night, the golden orange flames flicker and skip, searching for the oxygen that keeps them alight. The light reminds me of Baha’alotcha, a favorite Torah portion where the Israelites, as they travel to through the desert after leaving Egypt, are instructed to place seven lamps in a particular manner so as to create light in the Tabernacle.

The light of our world is flickering in a chaotic manner; most of 2020 has been a ripe with change regardless of what we may have planned. In the first 2/3 of the year, the news cycle and our lives have been altered with the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment, a chaotic administration in government, a newfound awareness of equity and social justice issues, the horrendous fires in California, and more. I find myself thinking about how we all must remember to work together as we learn, grow and strive for harmony and balance in times of upheaval.

Now, let’s create some imagery that we can tie into, from the parashah above:

Aaron mounts the lamps and reaches out to light the menorah in the tabernacle Much as we must all reach out, and lift each other up The ark is finished so the Israelites are now able to focus on serving God’s commandments Much as we come together to foster community, relationship-building, compassion and growth with a goal to understand others and the means to build an equitable and just society. And finally, God instructs Moses to assemble the Israelite community leadership and bring the Levites before God as they are blessed for service. Much as we pledge to make the changes that will ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren of all colors, ethnicities, religions, and gather before our communities to pledge our dedication to service. We are the light, the promise and we are responsible for building for the future.

There is a Hebrew word for intention: Kavannah . The ancient verbal root of Kavannah refers to the “heart”, that powerful living organ pumping away in your chest. You can feel it and hear it right now; although you can’t see it, you know it’s always there. The English word COURAGE is from the French “coeur” = heart. Socrates said that “courage is a sort of endurance of the soul” and the ancient Romans considered it one of four key virtues – wisdom, justice, temperance and courage. Clearly, the heart is a metaphor for inner strength.

We often think of setting an intention in relation to what we want to accomplish. However, if we think about it as being the heart of the matter, it represents how we intend to show up for each other, how we support each other and forge the connections that allow us to thrive.

Taking a moment to set intentions is a reminder – – not to try and rid ourselves of life’s obstacles and not to eliminate the trials of living (because that will not happen, not in this lifetime!) – – but rather to acknowledge that in being human, it is our job to embrace those challenges, to help each other recognize what is weighing us down and to find the means for realizing those challenges as a precious gift.

So, what does it look like to set intentions? It could be making a commitment to fully listen to each other, to acknowledge each other’s contributions, to be present at any given moment, even to ask for help! It could be taking a stand, taking a risk, finding the courage to speak up when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient.

How do we follow up on our intentions? By speaking of our hopes and plans, sharing our desire with others, inviting others to join in, and allowing all those others to support our efforts.

Each year I ask my friend Kimberly to make me a bracelet etched with a word I have chosen as my intention of the year. This is the sixth year I’m doing this, and the word this year is simply Shalom. It represents my hope and desire for peace and the ability to create a world of understanding.

And so, as we enter the Hebrew year of 5781, I wish everyone a big, beautiful, hopeful Shalom – –