“Hineni” literally means “here I am.” Examples of its use in the Torah will explain its significance.
On several occasions, God asks Adam, Abraham and Moses, “Where are you?” Understood literally, it’s a nonsensical question. If God is all knowing, doesn’t God know where they are?
Perhaps the question isn’t about geographical location. Perhaps instead, God is asking: Where are you in your moral decision making?
The answer “hineni” means: “Here I am ready and waiting to do Your will. Here I am, a partner with You in the eternal covenant between You and our people. How can I fulfill my role more fully?”
Yet the word conveys so much more. To say “hineni” expresses a yearning for a spiritual awakening, a moment, however fleeting, in which we feel close to the heart of the Universe.
It indicates a receptive mind and an openness of soul. It declares a readiness to engage, to take part in the unfolding of the Jewish people’s history.
It signals the moment when the details of my own life story become one with the story of our people — a legacy I stand ready to pass down to those who follow.
To say “hineni” is to live simultaneously in the past, present and future: To be aware of our past as a source of our identity and values; to see the future, alert to its possibilities, committed to its betterment; and to experience every day in the present, living according to our values, grateful for every moment.
To say “hineni” is to admit that I cannot be fully present without a community to say “hinenu” — “here we are.” Indeed, we Jews are a hopelessly communal people. Our individual efforts accrue meaning and gain purpose when we make them with others.
Rabbi David Cohen is the rabbi at Congregation Sinai. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the synagogue’s September/October 2013 bulletin.