The Meaning of Chai

8 months ago The Connections Staff 0

Chloe Baker (pictured with the orange sweatshirt, alongside her classmates)// Fairfax, VA

A few weeks ago I turned 18 and made the plunge into legal adulthood. To my non-Jewish friends, turning 18 is a huge milestone as it is their first taste of being considered an adult and being responsible for certain things on their own. But unlike them, I’ve been considered an adult since my 12th birthday—my Bat Mitzvah.

Although 18 might not be the age of adulthood in Judaism, there is still significance in this number. 18 is the numerical value of the word “chai”, which means “life”, and it consists of the letters chet and yud. It is customary to give gifts and charity in multiples of $18. But deeper than this, as I reflect on the meaning of 18 I want to dive into the true meaning of “chai”, and what it means to live a meaningful life. 

I opened two gifts this morning, and they were my eyes. Although my 7:00 AM school wakeup can be annoying most days, I remind myself of how lucky I am to wake up each morning by saying Modeh Ani. I then go downstairs to pack my bag and thank my mom for preparing my lunch. After that I get in the car to drive my brother and I to school; we listen to music and make jokes while we sit in the long line of cars waiting to turn in, but I enjoy this traffic because it lengthens our quality time together. Once at school I greet my friends and teachers with a smile and always try my hardest to have a good day, even if obstacles get in the way. After school I’ll sometimes grab a coffee with friends, and even if my drink was slow to make, I’ll still tip a little bit. Afterwards, I’ll go to the gym and be grateful for a functional body that allows me to work out, even if I can’t lift as heavy as I’d like to. Lastly, I go home to dinner with my family where even if I don’t like the meal that night, I am still grateful that there is a house full of food. 

Now, let’s look at the inverse: I could very well wake up at 7:00 AM and continuously hit the snooze button until I can’t anymore. Then I could go downstairs, not acknowledge my mom and have a silent car ride with my brother. I could honk my horn and complain to administration about too much traffic on campus, and I could walk into school with my head down. At after school coffee I could avoid tipping, and at the gym I could complain to myself about how I’m not strong enough. But instead, I try to emulate the meaning of “chai” in my everyday life. To live a meaningful life is to be kind, selfless and good natured. 

Did you know that something as simple as smiling at someone is a mitzvah? In Pirkei Avot (1:15) Shammai says “Recieve every man with a pleasant countenance”. Greeting someone with a happy face can improve their day, and yours. 

I’ve found that the meaning of life is to simply find meaning and positivity in ordinary things. Remember that there are so many blessings in our busy days that we don’t notice, but when things get hard, realizing this can really benefit us and change our way of thinking. I can’t wait to take all of these things I’ve learned and continue to apply them throughout my “chai” year, after my 18 years and beyond. L’chaim!