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Hineni, Here I am

01/12/2023 01:09:22 PM


Sarah Avner, Cantorial Soloist

For the past several weeks we have been reading the story of Joseph as the book of Genesis finally comes to its end. The story of Jacob, his favorite son Joseph, and the band of brothers is so exciting that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber crafted a musical based on the tale in 1968: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.

Fast-forward to 1985, three years after the musical makes its Broadway debut. I am in grade 7 and attending a school whose focus is music. I get to have a two week schedule that involves choir/orchestra every other day. It is decided that our school, elementary aged children in grades 5 through 8, will become the choir for a professional production of the story of Joseph. Some of us will audition for parts: the adoring girls and the brothers and everyone else (approx. 60 children/grade level so, let’s say 240 students) will become a part of the largest children’s chorus ever to participate and perform the musical. The lead characters will be professional, paid roles.

All of this is to share that our twice weekly rehearsals over several months in our school gym, mastering the choral parts, when to stand/sit, plus the performances of the show itself has embedded this music deeply into my psyche. Each year when we begin reading about the story of Joseph these songs begin roaming through my head becoming the soundtrack in my mind both on and off the bimah.

Needless to say, when we chanted the words chazak, chazak v’nit chaseik (may we find strength in one another), this past Shabbat morning as we read the final words of both the story of Joseph and the book of Genesis, I was relieved. I can officially put the melodies of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” behind me as we move into the book of Exodus.

With the book of Genesis in our rear-view mirror we now move into the book of Exodus, exploring the verses of Shemot – Names, taken from the first verse of the parashah:

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household:” (Exodus 1:1).

So much happens in the verses of Torah to come. We get to meet the Pharoah who “…did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:9), mid-wives Shifrah and Puah, as well as the main characters – Moses and Aaron. We also read the story famously known as “the burning bush” and hear Moses’s response to God: “…Hineni, here I am.” (Ex. 3:4)

As I drove along Mopac to my office here at CBI this morning I was struck by the parallel between where we are in our verses of Torah and where we are as a community. The Israelite people are about to find themselves wandering in the desert while we, too, will soon find ourselves wandering. Our sanctuary remains closed after the arson on Halloween 2021, our administrative offices are currently undergoing mold-remediation and then reconstruction, and what has been our temporary prayer-space in Smith Auditorium will soon see its own renovation. Becoming a beautiful transitional prayer space while we begin the sacred work, together, of planning for our future.

Unlike our ancestors, we are privileged to have community partners willing to house us during this time of transition. So, instead of wandering, we will move to Huffman Hall at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. We look forward to sharing all of the details and dates as soon as we have them.

In the meantime, I invite us to return to Moses’s answer to God: “Hineni, here I am.” This beautiful teach written by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin expresses my thoughts for us in this time:

“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.

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.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784