From this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yayeshev:
One time, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph,” Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Hineini.” (“Here I am.”)
Another one of those great “Hineini moments.” Hineini is the same word uttered by Abraham when God sends him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1); by Jacob when he prepares to travel to Egypt (Genesis 46:2); by Moses when he responds to God at the burning bush (Exodus 2:4). Hineini is a word that represents a sense of inner immediacy and purpose, of spiritual openness: “Here I am. I am ready.”
Interestingly, Joseph’s use of the word is unique because he does not utter it as a response to a divine command, but rather to a seemingly innocuous request from his father Jacob. Unlike most of the Torah’s narratives, God is not really a main player in the Joseph story. It is a famously human account, with the divine plan unfolding in a more subtle, oblique fashion. In the Joseph narrative, God almost seems to be directing the action from “behind the curtain,” as it were.
That’s what makes Joseph’s “Hineini” all the more poignant. Though he has no way of knowing it consciously at the time, his father’s request will indeed set in motion a series of events that will have profound and wide ranging consequences: Joseph’s travail at the hands of his brother, his subsequent good fortune in Pharaoh’s court, the rescue of his family from famine and their relocation to Egypt, where they will eventually grow into a great nation. We might say that if Joseph had not been “ready” to do this simple chore for his father, none of us would even be around today to read the story.
Of course Joseph will eventually be able to put these pieces together when he is reunited with his brothers and explains to them: “Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither: it was to save life that God sent me here.” (45:5) By the end of the narrative, he will no longer be the immature and somewhat self-centered youth that we met in this week’s portion. He will understand the method to the seeming madness of his world. He will be able, finally, to grasp the deeper meaning of his life, of the twisting path he has traveled.
Like so many of us, it is only at the end of a long and often difficult road that we are able to sense the inner purpose of our journey. I can think of no better reason for us to cultivate spiritual readiness: to be able to truly answer when we are called: “Hineini.”