The Deepest Meanings of Hineni

This sheet on Exodus 3 was written by Nina Beth Cardin for 929 and can also be found here

One day, when Moses was tending his flock in the wilderness, having fled from Egypt and now living with his wife and sons in Midian, he came upon an unusual site: a lone bush among the desert scruff, ablaze. So he paused to look at it. And as he stood a while gazing upon the bush, he slowly began to realize that this was not just an unusual site (nothing else around it was burning); it was astonishing: a bush aflame but not being consumed. Riveted by this vision, he chose to draw closer, to get a better look.

And it was in that moment that God seemed to finally choose Moses.

Perhaps it was because of his intense curiosity, his ability to bear witness to the inexplicable and not shrink from its presence.

Perhaps it was because Moses held off judgment, refusing to give in to superstitions or conjure up easy or fantastical explanations but rather chose to be present to the moment of awe and mystery.

Or perhaps it was because this time, Moses chose not to run away from power and danger but toward it.

Whatever it was, God chose Moses and called his name. “Moses, Moses.” And Moses answered, as did Abraham and Jacob before him and Samuel after him: “Hineni, here I am.”

A stunning response. “Hineni” is a pure, astonished, unguarded affirmation given before all the facts are known. It is a spontaneous, unequivocal commitment promising: “I am here”, where and as you found me, fully attentive, focused, all in. And even more, “I am here”- all of me, with all that I am and all that I can be.

“Hineni” is a response of sacred and undiluted presence, a response in which the self sheds all reservations, which expands the boundaries of self, indicating a readiness to receive and respond to whatever experience is about to unfold. It is brave and humble.

It is the kind of response we offer only a few times in our lives. When we promise ourselves to the one we love not knowing what the future might bring; when we gaze into a newborn’s eyes and promise we will never let them down. When we promise ourselves – as we enter a new era of our lives - to be all that we can be.

It is no doubt the kind of response God was hoping for. The story of the Jewish people could now continue.

(ד) וַיַּ֥רְא יְהוָ֖ה כִּ֣י סָ֣ר לִרְא֑וֹת וַיִּקְרָא֩ אֵלָ֨יו אֱלֹהִ֜ים מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַסְּנֶ֗ה וַיֹּ֛אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃
(4) When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.”

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is a community rabbi who lives in Baltimore

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