Hineini is the response offered by several great prophets in response to God’s call. What does it mean, and what does it teach us?
Hineini: How Will You Answer the Call?
Earlier this year, I chose hineini as a mantra to guide me this year.
Hineini is the response offered by several great prophets in response to God’s call: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah.
It appears most prominently in connection with Abraham, who responds with hineini three times during the story of Akeidat Yitzchak — the Binding of Issac. This is the story where God commands Abraham to bring his son Issac as an offering. Just before Abraham is about to slaughter his son, the angel calls to stop him.
We read this story on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. On the surface, it seems like a strange choice. Rosh Hashana celebrates the creation of the world; it would seem most fitting to read the beginning of Genesis, which recounts the story of creation.
But Rosh Hashana also marks the beginning of the period when we return to our truth. The shofar represents God’s call to us. At this time of year, one of our primary questions is;
What Does Hineini mean?
Hineini is generally translated in three different ways. I’ll review them briefly below before I share my thoughts.
(1) Physical Location: Here I am
The literal translation of hineini is “here I am.” Although this sounds like a statement of physical location, it doesn’t fit the context.
God calls out to Abraham by name; he doesn’t ask Abraham “where are you?”
Even if you want to assume that the question is implied, it doesn’t make sense; the all-knowing God surely knows where Abraham is.
Also, as Linda Hirschhorn notes, in Hebrew, if want to tell someone where you are physically, you would use the word poh – not hineini.
So hineini clearly connotes something more in this context. But what?
(2) Availability: I am Available
Some scholars offer that hineini is a statement of availability. As in, “I am available to do what you ask.”
But just because someone is technically “available” to do something doesn’t mean will actually do it.
(3) Readiness: I am ready
A third possibility is that hineini is a statement of readiness, as in, “I am ready to do what you ask.”
While readiness is a step above availability, this doesn’t seem to fit either. It’s hard to imagine that Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son to God.
How could one ever be ready to make that type of sacrifice?
Another Option: I Am Willing
To me, it makes most sense to consider hineini as a statement of willingness: I am willing.
Willingness is about heart, desire and emotional presence.
Willingness is about mindset, rather than availability or ability. To be willing is to be emotionally available; not just physically available. To be willing is to have desire, even if we do not have the physical ability.
We can be willing to do something even if we do not have the physical ability to do it.
Even if someone is available to do a task, unless he is willing, he won’t do it well — if at all. We can tell when someone is doing something out of a sense of obligation or duty; it shows in the results.
And even if the person is the most skilled at the task, if her heart isn’t in it, we can tell.
On the other hand, when a service or task is performed with love and desire, the results transcend the skill of the actor.
Willingness doesn’t require readiness.
When it comes to taking the big leap into a new venture, we rarely, if ever, feel ready. Sometimes, we may not even know how to get ready to do the thing we are called to do.
God was not testing whether Abraham would sacrifice his son. Rather, He was testing whether Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, even though he certainly did not — and probably would never — feel ready.
How Have You Responded to the Call?
Understanding hineini as an expression of willingness helps us consider how we have responded to our Divine call.
Have we stepped up to answer our call with hineini — with a full and willing heart and desire to serve?
Or have we shirked our duty under the cover of being “busy” and unavailable, and out of fear of not being ready?
Truth: We Are Never Ready
For those who are called to greatness, the bar is high and the path is paved with obstacles. The truth is, we may never feel ready.
If we want to fly, we must be willing to fall; for to fly is to fall, time and again, until we build the strength to soar.
This is the lesson in the story of the Akeida and the lesson of hineini:
You don’t have to be ready. You just have to be willing.
Willing to act. Willing to leap. Willing to risk. Willing to fall. Willing to fly. Willing to trust.
How Will You Answer the Call?
You are here for a purpose. There is a task that only you can do; a role that only you can play.
When we stay attuned, we hear our calling throughout the year, not only on Rosh Hashana.
As you attune to hear your call, the question for you to consider is not whether you are available; not whether you are capable; and not whether you are ready.
The question is:
Are you willing?
Have you attuned to your Divine call, your purpose in life? If not, what’s getting in the way? If you have, what is it? And are you stepping forward in service? Please share in the comments!