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A Spiritual Bucket List?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
— Psalms 90:12

This summer is a great time to check things off of your bucket-list. The pace is slower. Vacations often create opportunities to travel the world or to start or deepen a hobby. If you go on Bucketlist.org, you can create your own bucket list and compare your lists to others. The last time I looked, the site claims 48,924 participants with 889,936 goals. That's a lot to do. Better get them done quickly. You might run out of time.
 
This time-limitation helps us appreciate the verse above, the wisdom to live life fully awake. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” [Psalms 90:12] And it pays to start now, according to the Hebrew Bible, because we don’t control time. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring,” [Proverbs 27:1].” We make our plans, and then find out that there are other plans waiting for us. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” [Proverbs 16:9]. On the other hand, when we live life to the fullest, we do have a sense of the spiritual abundance that God has in store: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy...” [Psalms 16:11].
 
Popular bucket-list goals on Bucketlist.org include skydiving (of course), swimming with sharks, spending the night in an underwater hotel and experiencing zero gravity.  I got the feeling as I scanned the popular lists that doing some of these activities may actually precipitate death. This would most certainly compromise the actualization of any other goals on a bucket list.
 
You can imagine that the other winner category on bucketlist.org are sites around the globe to visit before you go, ala 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I wish the author would have picked a number less ambitious like 11. That would have been more doable. I might have even bought a second volume. There are a lot of travel goals on the bucket-list site: visiting Stonehenge, standing in the Sistine Chapel, straddling the Equator, eating sushi in Japan. These do seem worthy of a bucket list. But they require significant financing, time and careful planning.
 
Kissing passionately in the rain (shared by 944 others), giving blood (581) or laughing until you cry (475), however, just seemed too banal to merit a place on any list. That was also true for learning CPR or eating a slice of Spam. Really? You can’t do better than that? People, where is your imagination?
 
I struggle with society’s understanding of a bucket-list. If we are going to check off anything, it better be the experiences that make life worth living before the checklist runs out. I have opted for a different bucket list, one that has emotional, spiritual or intellectual goals that offer depth, breadth and heft to life. What about organizing a family reunion this summer or writing down your memoirs, going to a silent retreat or reconciling with a sibling? Few of us can say that we have really prayed, really spent meditative time in wonder or told a friend just how much he or she has meant to us. Let’s say at 87 you jumped out of a plane with a parachute and a prayer and can tweet that to all your friends. It’s still not going to fix the broken relationship you have with your estranged son.
 
We have many deathbed scenes in Tanakh, enough to help us realize that although our biblical heroes did not use the rather crass term “bucket list,” they had a very deep understanding that the last words, blessings and demands one makes are listened to with a different kind of attention. There is also a strong sense, whether standing beside Abraham, Jacob or King David’s deathbed that these towering figures needed to say what they did before they left this world to those who were staying.
 
You will not be repeating this life. Every day is a chance to squeeze a little bit more out of this blessed existence. So what are you waiting for?
 
 Shabbat Shalom

The Power of Invitation

Here I am. You called me.
— I Samuel 3:5

"I believe there's a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call." If Oprah Winfrey says it, it must be true. The great awakening of what we are here to do is never obvious nor is the path linear, and yet many of us feel an extraordinary tug to do something out of the ordinary, to answer a voice that gets louder and louder as our days get numbered. Long before Oprah advised us to answer the call, God did. God called dozens of prophets to take up a vocation, to lead, to serve. And it is this sentiment, this power of invitation that frames our next biblical book. 

 "The Lord called to Moses" opens up the book of Vayikra or Leviticus, the biblical book we begin this Shabbat as part of our Torah reading cycle. Rather than jump to the rest of the book, with its detailed discussion of sacrifices and the protocols and procedures of the Mishkan or portable Temple, let us just focus on one word: the first word. Why did God call Moses?
 
As we closed the book of Exodus last week, we read of the magnificent and ceremonial finish of the Tabernacle's completion. Moses "finished the work," the text tells us, completing the long, collaborative process of building a home where God and human desires were to intersect. It was there that people could offer their thanks and proffer their praise. It was there that they could beg for atonement and hope for forgiveness. It was the heart of the camp, and all the tribes were positioned around it with it as the center. Yet when it was completed, there was no longer any room for our fearless leader: "Moses could not enter the Tent of the Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" [Exodus 40:35]. This notion, that God's cloud filled the space, is mentioned several times in this short closing paragraph.
 
But a Tent of the Meeting is hardly a good meeting place if those you meet with cannot enter. It is at this juncture that God called Moses back in- Vayikra. When it comes to holiness, when it's a matter of aspiration and reach, we often wait until we're called. We don't initiate. We are intimidated or afraid or lack the confidence to push ourselves forward. It at such moments that the call becomes critical. It is the invitation to be more of ourselves, to be in communion with God and others, to shine. It reminds us of the powerful words of Daniel: "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever," [Daniel 12:3].
 
Because Moses was called, he understood that if he wanted people to accept the commandments, he, too, had to call them. We have a midrash which suggests this very reading: "The rabbis said: You find that when God gave the Torah to Moses, He gave it to him after calling. How do we know this? Since it is said, 'And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up' (Exodus 19:20). Also Moses our teacher, when he came to repeat the Torah to Israel, said to them: 'Just as I received the Torah with calling so too will I hand it over to God's children with calling. From where do we know this? From what is written in the context: 'And Moses called to all of Israel and said to them...'[Midrash Rabba, Deuteronomy 7:8] Because Moses had been invited to lead, he understood that it was incumbent upon him to call others to this sacred task.
 
I know what you're thinking. God hasn't called me recently. To this, I find the words of the Scottish Baptist, Oswald Chambers, particularly inspiring:

God did not direct His call to Isaiah - Isaiah overheard God saying, '. . . who will go for us?' The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God's call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.

We don't have to wait for a calling. We might need to open our eyes and ears a little more. And we might need to take a page out of Moses' playbook and call others who might otherwise stand on the sidelines. There is still history to make. There is still purpose to discover. Just think of one person you could call upon to grow through the giving of greater responsibility or more leadership.
 
What better time to make that call than when we read this week's Torah portion: Vayikra - and he called - leading up to Purim when Esther hesitated then answered the call and saved our people as a result. Now's the time to actualize ourselves and help others achieve more by stretching farther and reaching higher. Answer the call.
 
Shabbat Shalom