Why the name “B’Chavana” for this experiment in Jewish community? Couldn’t a name that is easier to pronounce be found?
Sure, an easier name could be found. But “B’Chavana” captures three essential elements of this new way of creating Jewish community.
1) In modern usage, “b’chavana” means “intentionally.” “Ani asiti et zeh b’chavana – I meant to do that; I did it on purpose; I did it intentionally.”
So much of Jewish life today is lived “accidentally,” without much thought. We do things because our parents did them, or because tradition says so, or because that’s how the synagogue does it. What has happened to engagement with a meaningful spiritual tradition? We use the name “B’Chavana” because we want to be intentional about the Jewish life that we lead – the choices that we make – and because we want to be intentional about the community that we will form. Nothing by accident; nothing without planning; nothing without careful forethought. We are creating a community that is purposeful.
2) In the late middle ages, the mystics brought to their students new understandings of God. They wrote kavanot – prayers, poems, mini-essays – which they inserted into the worship service in order to teach their followers these new understandings. They were concerned with what their students knew and thought.
We are not satisfied with the mindless practice of traditions. We do not feel spiritually enriched when we don’t understand what we are doing. We want to understand the meanings that are encoded in our traditions. We want to learn the how, the when, the why, the meaning and motivation. We are creating a community that is engaged in learning and growing.
3) In ancient times, the creators of our tefilah (worship service) understood the dynamic tension of prayer. On the one hand, there is keva – the fixed service, with its overarching structure and prescribed order of prayers. This service brings us a discipline from beyond ourselves. On the other hand, there is the kavana – the spontaneous utterances of our hearts, minds and mouths. This prayer comes from the deepest parts of our selves and expresses our passion.
Boring, repetitious, dull services are not for us. We infuse our tradition of prayer with creativity. We write new prayers based on ancient themes. We speak of spiritual questions and journeys. We sing with passion, express our souls through music. We are creating a community that will infuse our Jewish lives with passion and creativity.
Together, these three – intention, intellect, passion – will enable us to live wholehearted Jewish lives – lives filled with meaning and purpose. That is what B’Chavana is all about.