Searching the meaning of ‘Hineni – I am here’

Rabbi Ari Kaiman

Rabbi Ari Kaiman

BY RABBI ARI KAIMAN

Our deepest relationships are not defined by strength, but by vulnerability. Our parsha begins with Judah approaching Joseph from a position of weakness. He offers his own life in exchange for his younger brother, Binyamin. In his plea, his vulnerability is so apparent, his self-sacrifice so deep, that Joseph is moved to tears and reconciliation is possible.

Our patriarchs, particularly Abraham and Jacob, are models of this relationship in their encounters with God. When Abraham is commanded by God to leave everything he knows and trust that God will fulfill the promise of becoming a great nation, he is exposing, as it were, his vulnerability to God. He obeys without question. The epitome of this relationship is Abraham’s final test, Akedat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac. God calls directly, “Abraham”, who replies with the phrase “Hineini, I am here.” Saying “Hineini,” does not simply mean, “I’m here” the way a student absentmindedly responds to a teacher to indicate presence, Hineini means, “I am here for you fully, with the trust and vulnerability to do whatever it is you ask of me.” For what God asks of Abraham is the unthinkable – to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. A few verses later, as Abraham and Isaac are walking together toward the fateful moment, Isaac calls directly to Abraham, “Father”, who responds, “Hineini, B’ni, I am here, my son.” Had Isaac asked directly to go home, could a father refuse his son’s request? Isaac is bound, and Abraham is about to fulfill his commitment to God. They are both as vulnerable as any two human beings could possibly be. In that moment, an Angel of Adonai calls, “Avraham! Avraham!” who responds, “Hineini”

That is our last record of a direct encounter between Abraham and God. In parashat Vayigash, a similar encounter is recorded of Jacob and God. God called to Israel in a vision by night, “Jacob! Jacob!” Jacob/Israel responds “Hineini.” Though Jacob knew this trip would end in slavery for his family, he knew his vulnerability would ultimately be rewarded.

To be vulnerable to God is to allow for the possibility that you may be asked to sacrifice. No real relationship exists without vulnerability, no real relationship exists without some sacrifice. But without relationships, we may find ourselves alone. May we be blessed to find the strength to be vulnerable.

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