Let us be reflective, present, during the festival of lights

Shabbat Chanukah

Genesis 37:1-40:23

Numbers 7:18-29

Zechariah 2:14-4:7

by Rabbi Amy Eilberg

In the midst of this parashah's dramatic narrative of the early stages of Joseph's life, one small word calls out to me. The word is Hineni, "Here I am."

The word resounds with familiarity; it is practically liturgical. Hearing this word in any context, we hear the echo of other moments when it has been said.

Now, reading the Joseph story, we remember when Abraham said "Hineni" to God when asked to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1), when Moses said "Hineni" at the burning bush (Exodus 3:4) and when Isaiah received his call to prophecy (Isaiah 6:8), to name just a few.

In these classic stories of leaders responding to divine communication that would transform their lives, the brief answer "Hineni" carries a world of meaning.

It means, "I am here."

It means, "I am ready to do as you ask. I am willing to go where you send me."

It means, "I am open to what will unfold from this moment on."

In our story, knowing of the destructive rivalry that already existed between Joseph and his brothers, Jacob asks his beloved son to follow his brothers into the wilderness. Joseph responds, "Hineni," in a word, saying to his father, "I will do as you ask. I trust your direction for me. I will seek out what you desire for me, even if this puts me at great risk, even if I cannot know where this path will lead."

"Hineni," whether spoken as a response to a divine invitation, or as a word of reassurance to a loved one (as in Gen. 22:7 or 27:1), conveys a posture of presence, of availability.

Saying "Hineni" expresses a willingness to open oneself to the experience being offered. Biblical characters who say "Hineni" to God or to family members are saying, "I will do as you say," or "I am here for you."

They are saying "yes" to relationships, to life, to the Divine. They are responding to their lives with trust, with humility, with openness to learning and surprise.

A friend of mine contrasts this stance of willingness with the stance of willfulness, more common in many of our lives.

In a state of willfulness, we are determined to make things happen, to be in control, to reach our goal.

When we are willful, we tend to be certain, headstrong and impatient. In a state of willingness, by contrast, we are open, receptive, patient to discern what life may bring.

How often do we live our life in unnecessary struggle, cultivating an adversarial attitude toward the events of our lives?

How rare and tranquil can be those moments when we are able instead to say, "I accept life as it is given to me. I am here in this moment. It is my desire to open my heart to what and who is here, calling to me."

The Chanukah story invites us to reflect on a temple being ravaged and then rededicated.

Amid the joyful noise of gifts and songs and latkes this Chanukah, we might seek out some quiet moments to consider the state of our own inner sanctuary, our own personal place of holiness within.

We might choose at least one night to quietly watch the candles burn, considering what work of purification and rededication needs to be done in our own sacred spaces.

By the light of the Chanukah candles, we might ask ourselves: To what and to whom do I say "Hineni," "I am fully here?"

If a miracle came to me here and now, would I respond?

How attentive am I to the sources of light in my life?

Do I savor the light, or rush past it too quickly to appreciate it?

As we light first one candle, then two, all the way to a chanukiah ablaze with light, we might ask what areas of our lives need more light, more openness, more guidance, more acceptance.

May the light of the Chanukah candles bring warmth to our own sacred spaces, in our homes and in our souls.

And may the flickering lights invite us to open to the many sources of light in our lives.