“Hin’ni.” Here I am. Why does our liturgy feature this kavanah, this intention-setting prayer, as a gateway to the repetition of the Amidah? It seems to fit on Yom Kippur, but why do we also recite it on Rosh Hashanah? Why does it seem to contradict itself—words of humility straining against centuries of cantorial drama?
Perhaps its prominent placement is a reminder that we are approaching the liturgical core of a day that requires more from every Jew, and so demands from ḥazzanim and shliḥei tzibbur more awareness of our responsibility as communal leaders.
Perhaps the contradiction dissolves in the Mussar perspective on humility. True balanced humility is taking up just the right amount of space—neither filling too much space, nor shrinking from responsibility when we are given a task and have the ability to do it.
None of us has all the right qualifications for the communal spiritual task we are about to undertake. Each of us has some deficit. This kavanah forces me as a shaliaḥ tzibbur to confront what I lack, and sing it aloud. It can be a 2x4 to an inflated ego.
At the same time, we love these words and this music. Singing it, I remember that prayer demands my best effort. Navigating this gateway prayer reassures me that I can lead the congregation through the territory ahead, as have generations of ḥazzanim. Humility balances between two competing thoughts: I am so small, and nonetheless, I am enough.
And if the leader is lacking, yet still stands to pray, then every Jew in every pew can also stand before the Holy One in prayer—no matter how deficient we might feel. We are small, and nonetheless, we are enough.
Prayer can be difficult. Confessing my fear of inadequacy in song is an act of trust—trust in all of you, and trust in God. It breaks the ice for deep prayer.
I love talking about liturgy with my wife, Tina. She painted for me stirring imagery, which I gratefully share with you.
I invite you now to envision the royal court of the Infinite One, filling up with emissaries on coronation day—Rosh Hashanah. Every congregation in every city, every minyan in every town, has sent representatives to carry a gift to the Divine Sovereign. Every ḥazzan carefully carries a golden basket laden with blue velvet bags, and, trembling, sets it lovingly before the Blessed One. Thousands of golden baskets, millions of velvet bags, softly cradling the hearts of every member of every community. Our hopes, our fears, our dreams. Our strengths, our weaknesses. Our triumphs, our shortcomings. All our hearts, arrayed before the awesome throne. The Talmud teaches [Sanh.106b] Rachmana liba ba’ei, the Merciful One desires the heart—each and every heart. The Blessed One cherishes each heart—your heart, and my heart—remembering its unique role in the universe. Ten thousand shofarot sound a royal fanfare. The velvet bags open and all our hearts flutter upward, uniting with a great roar like a million angels’ wings, a precious gift from all of us on Earth to crown the Blessed One on this day—the day the world is born, and reborn.
Could I dare to imagine that I might be fit to serve as your shaliaḥ, your emissary? Acceptable to carry and present your heart? I am filled with awe and fear at the responsibility you have entrusted to me. I pray that my flaws do not hinder your heart from reaching its place in the Divine crown!
(The camera cuts to an earthly synagogue, where another shaliaḥ tzibbur readies for departure.)
O Merciful One! Don’t let my community suffer because of my deficits! Smile as a gesture that You view me as acceptable to serve. Help me fulfill my task with love, with awe, with joy. Don’t let me stumble as I approach Your throne.
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I fear my task even more when I realize that this scene is more than metaphor! My task is not only to carry your heart in this spiritual dreamscape, but to lead the way as each and every one of you travels to your own inner sanctuary, where you will present your own heart, as the Merciful One desires.
Let these beloved words and melody find your heart. Wrap your heart, your hopes, and your fears in the velvet bag of your inner prayer, and add it to the basket we are weaving (our communal expression of the liturgy). Together, we shall place it beside the throne of the Infinite One. Let the words in the Maḥzor guide you there. Know that I, too, feel inadequate to the task, and yet together, we are enough.
“Hin’ni” belongs here on Rosh Hashanah, opening a gateway for all of us to enter the royal court of the One Above.
Hin’ni. Here I am. Here you are. Let’s go to a coronation.
Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash