I want to share some essential questions with you that I’ve developed from a teaching that was at once a challenge and a touchstone for me from the moment I first read it.

The following words belong to Ben Azzai, a 2nd Century Jewish Sage:

You will be called by your name,
you will be seated in your place,
you will be given what is yours.
No man touches what is meant for his fellow.
No kingdom touches its neighbor by so much as a hairsbreadth. (Yoma 38 a-b)

This teaching held out a life that was so different from my own experience that I really had to wrestle with it, and I did so with the help of healing friends and professionals who helped me to make myself the first object of study in the light of its wisdom.

What made the teaching a challenge were some of the “givens” I had lived (and daily died by):

  1. When my name was called, I knew I was in trouble.
  2. I seemed to be the only one at the Table of Life who had no place card, no seat.
  3. I was more likely to envy than celebrate even a friend’s success.
  4. I carefully guarded my own little stash, not to mention my “self” from being touched.

Over time, I developed a practice of personal inquiry out of this teaching that I will share, because self-study is an essential practice in living this imperfect human life.

The Essential Questions

Pick one.
Begin anywhere,
Just begin.

A practice for cultivating a willing, open-hearted stance in the here and now.

Showing up in your life: “You will be called by your name.”

Who or what is calling you? Are you listening? Do you recognize your name? The biblical response of our ancestors was “Hineni,” “Here I am.” You don’t need to be bible-loving to try this.

A practice for resting more and more in yourself, in all your goodness, brokenness, and complexity, and precisely where you are in life.

Being a “good enough” woman: “You will be seated in your place.”

Do you long to feel at home in this world, rooted within yourself? Can you be at ease with your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, even as you grow in character? Can you bear to enumerate and talk with them? Can you allow yourself to be a “good enough” but not complacent woman?

A practice for befriending the people and events in your life, and serving them in beneficial ways.

Befriending and serving: “You will be given what is yours.”

Do you long to understand and serve your singular purpose in life, to know your innate wisdom and see it flourish amidst your daily activities? Can you let yourself know what you know about your purpose and your wisdom?

Because no one else’s kingdom touches yours by so much as a hairsbreadth.

And as you begin to live into this, isolation melts and whole new worlds of connection, relationship, and intimacy begin to appear.

Really, this is how things work.


What givens have you lived by that may be challenged by this teaching? Which questions will you be wrestling with? Please share your thoughts in the comment area below. 

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  1. Re. Essential Questions: Following an inner calling has been a practice for me for some years. Sometimes the calling has been tremendous – as in “Sell your home.” “Move to another city.” Most often and on a daily basis, it is more like “Give this person a call.” “Wait and think it over before responding to that email.” What I take from this exercise that seems promising and refreshing is the Hebrew response, Hineni. “I am here.” Unknown to me before. What if I were to stop each time I feel the inner call – a feeling that is quite distinct and clear – and ask myself, “Am I really here?” “Am I here and ready to respond to this instruction with full attention, with transparency?” “Am I here as my best self?” As I begin to play with making this a practice, I feel the refreshment.

    A teacher once told me and a group of students, “Don’t hide behind a pillar.” To respond “I am here” is like stepping out from behind whatever pillar of unwillingness or insecurity may lurk within myself, into the light of my own natural generosity and eagerness to share. Many thanks for your well considered questions, Sara.

    • There’s the being attentive – “I am here” for the listening – which you describe so beautifully. And then there are the nuances of response –
      so two rounds of call and response – the listening, and the gathering of willingness.

  2. Found my place at the table then everyone at the table left. Or maybe I left and haven’t found my new table. Relationships shifting. Health issues continue to confuse and surprise. Choices that seemed appropriate and right are panning out with a life of their own that I didn’t quite anticipate. Feel all ajumble. Keep plodding along. Challenged by the process. Where is that table???

    • Perhaps you are being called by a new name in a new melody whose sound has not quite reached your ears yet. As you begin to catch that name, that melody, you cannot help but follow it to a new place, a new table. Meanwhile, your lap makes a fine table. Keep some paper napkins with you to use as a tablecloth.

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