On the second day of Rosh Hashana, we will read the Akedah story (the Binding of Isaac). Isaac’s father, Abraham, is about to carry out the divine instruction to sacrifice his favored child when an angel calls out, “Abraham! Abraham!” Abraham’s response is resolute, “Hineni” – “Here I am. Right here. Right now.”
That Torah Reading will not be the only time we hear the word “Hineni” on the High Holidays. As the Musaf portion of the services begins, the Cantor stands at the back of the sanctuary and chants the words of the “Hineni” prayer. The pageantry and tune create a spiritual awareness unique to the High Holidays.
What is the Cantor saying as she/he intones the words of the “Hineni” prayer? “Hineni” – “Here I am…” Although the Cantor goes on to say that he/she is unworthy to represent the people before the Holy One, the Cantor asserts “Hineni” – I am here. Right now. Fully present on behalf of my community.”
Our Rosh Hashana second day Torah Reading and the “Hineni” prayer remind us of the potential and power of the present moment.
We can do nothing about the past. We can regret something we did or did not do, but we can do nothing to change it. Even the process of teshuva (repentance) cannot change past wrongdoing. It can only enable us to atone for it. Likewise, we can plan for the future, but we cannot control it.
The only moment that really matters is the present one. Like Abraham and the Cantor, we can say, “Hineni” – “Here I am.” I am attuned to this moment. Here I am with the Holy One. Here I am with my loved ones. Here I am with my friends. Here I am with my community. Here I am with myself. I am fully present, and I am ready to act in life – affirming and caring ways.
Hineni – I hope the High Holidays will encourage you to be fully present in the moment and to the good things that may flow from that awareness. I wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy year throughout 5783.
Rabbi Neil Sandler is rabbi emeritus of Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Buckhead.