When a teacher takes attendance, the student replies, “Here.” The student is articulating that their presence matters.
A highlight of the Rosh Hashana service is the Hineni prayer as the Cantor enters from the back of the sanctuary and slowly walks towards the front.
Hineni—Here I stand. The same word is used in the Torah reading when God calls Abraham for the akeida, the sacrifice of his son Isaac. Abraham answers God, Hineni–I am ready. We also find this word used when Moses stands at the burning bush.
To say, “I am here” is not to be taken lightly. The Hineni prayer teaches that each of us has a responsibility to be present. In the Middle Ages, when there was no prayer book, it was solely on the shoulders of the Cantor to pray on behalf of the congregation. The Talmud teaches that the one reciting this prayer should be ragil, regular in stature.
As we enter the sanctuary on Monday morning, we have high expectation as to our desires: Unanswered prayers from the past year and wishes and hopes for the year ahead. We too often put this burden on others. We think, “Let them pray for us!”
This year, may we all stand and say hineni–I am here. I am in the present moment, part of a sacred community, listening to each other’s prayers, so that when that moment in the year ahead arrives, and we are forced to look inside ourselves for strength, for wisdom, and for good, we can all say “Hineni—Here I am.”