"Here I am"- Hineni, the heroism of the Binding and 'Sha'at Neilah'

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in our everyday life - Vayerah – 5781

The Parshat HaAkida, (Yitzchak's Binding), which we will read on Shabbat, is one of the formative Parashot in the Torah, which arouses puzzlement, and the human mind has difficulty to understand. The binding attempt marked in the people of Israel's collective DNA, the willingness to sacrifice and an 'inconceivable devotion', for what is dear and sacred to us. And teaches how far resilience can reach in the face of a challenging experience like no other. Thanks to a firm faith in G-d and His Torah.

In the Parasha of the binding, Abraham's complete response is mentioned three times. In a unique expression - 'Here I am'. In response to the Divine command - וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃ and he answered, “Here I am” (Bereshit 22:1), in response to his son Yitzchak "הִנֶּ֣נִּֽי בְנִ֑י" “Yes, my son.”  (ibid 7), and in response to the angel who commands him " אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר “Do not raise your hand against the boy" וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃ “Here I am.” (ibid 11).

"Here I am" is a powerful expression that expresses an extraordinary willingness to give the most precious of all - life, and to go against the natural paternal feeling:

ויאמר הנני. הנני לכהונה, הנני למלכות, הנני לשחוט, הנני ליהרג.

(Ber 22:1) And he said: Here am I, i.e., Here am I for the priesthood; Here am I for the kingship; Here am I ready to slaughter my son; Here am I   ready to be killed. (Midrash Tanchuma Buber Vayera 44:1)

Absolute willingness to the point of losing our personal desires:

מַהוּ לְשׁוֹן הִנֵּנִי, לְשׁוֹן עֲנָוָה, לְשׁוֹן חֲסִידוּת, שֶׁכָּךְ עַנְוְתָנוּתָן שֶׁל חֲסִידִים בְּכָל מָקוֹם.

"What does the expression hineni (“Here am I”) signify? It signifies meekness and piety. The meekness of pious men is indicated in every instance by the use of these words". (Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 22).

The Psukim mainly describe Abraham Avinu's test in the act of binding, but in fact Yitzchak is the main personality in the binding, his test does not fall short of his father's. It is named after him 'Yitzchak's Binding'. Some refer to Yitzchak as a teenager (Ibn Ezra pasuk 5), who is led to be bound by his father, in a passive manner.

However, the Sages emphasize that at the time of the binding, Yitzchak was thirty-seven years old.  (Bereshit Rabbah 55:4 - Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer {Eliezer ben Hurcanus} 31).

This could not have happened if he had not been willing to surrender to the binding according to the Divine command, in a way that is difficult to grasp in human reasoning:

"הא לכם יצחק, ע"ה, אשר מסר עצמו בלי שום סרוב ועיכוב, ופשט צווארו על גבי מזבח להישחט, לעשות רצונו, יתברך, עם שהיה יכול בקטנה שבתנועות להמלט על נפשו, בהיותו בתוקף, במבחר ימיו"

"Yitzchak, ע'ה, who gave himself up without any refusal or delay, and stretched his neck on the altar to be slaughtered, to do His will, to be blessed, even though he could have, with a small movement, escape while being in the prime force of his life”. (Bina Le’Itim :65). "And the Guardian Angels say, 'Let us see two righteous men, a father who slaughters and a son who is about to be slaughtered and there is no restraint in his hand" (Avot De Rabbi Nathan, manuscript, Q&A 92).

From ‘The Binding’ to the present day the people of Israel have known many bindings. During the years of exile, these were mainly as a result of people’s desire to convert Jews to their religion, or as a result of hatred of Jews. Since the establishment of the State of Israel and the establishment of the hebrew defensive forces, Israel has known the binding of sons who call 'Here I am', who responded, with a clear mind and wholeheartedly, to protect the nation, who were willing to give up their soul and bind themselves to protect their nation with their bodies. And fathers and mothers educating their sons for this.

In recent weeks, the series "Sha’at Neilah" about the Yom Kippur War has been screened. The screening was accompanied by a tremendous campaign that created the expectation, that before us is an invested production, which for the first time, will finally present the war in the right light.

In various forums, we have addressed a number of aspects in which the episodes of the series that have been screened so far, miss the point, and that it is no different from the familiar agenda in relation to the war. Focusing on failures, surprise and omission, and ignoring the unprecedented upheaval that took place during the war (in the Golan, within five days to forty km from Damascus, and in Egypt within eleven days, up to one hundred and one km from Cairo).

In the context of the Binding I would like to point out to another aspect. In this war (as well as in other wars) it was demonstrated, the astonishing devotion expressed by the ordinary warriors who sacrificed their lives, knowingly, and out of a clear mind, to stop the tanks’ attacks that threatened the country.

Warriors who responded with 'Hineni'-‘Here I am’ and who acted out of a deep and clear belief that this is what they should be doing, and that as part of their duty they might pay the highest price of all- their lives.

Of these, more than two thousand three hundred of the best soldiers paid with their lives (and more than three hundred during the period of Attrition until after Pesach).

Instead of focusing on this miraculous phenomenon, the series tends to produce a telenovela of insignificant matters.

'Devotion' is one of the causes of this 'upheaval'. After forty-seven years it is time for us to call it a miracle and cherish the warriors for their work.

Life with a mission in a postmodern era
The Parasha in the daily life - Parashat Vayera - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald- 5780
The divine call to Abraham in the Akeidat Yitzchak – (Binding of Yitzchak: request of Hashem to Abraham to bring Yitzchak up as a sacrifice) is answered with "Hineni - Here I am". 
וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹקים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃
"Some time afterward, G-d put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” (Bereshit 22: 1). 
The Angel’s call that stops him from reaching out to the boy is also answered in the same fashion "Here I am". 
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֜יו מַלְאַ֤ךְ ה֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃
“Then an angel of Hashem called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.”  (Bereshit 22: 11).
Abraham’s answer "Here I am" expresses an absolute willingness to obey the Divine Order even when he stands the most severe test of humanity; facing the basic paternal instinct and human desire for continuity: 
ויאמר הנני. הנני לכהונה, הנני למלכות, הנני לשחוט, הנני ליהרג.
AND HE SAID: HERE AM I, i.e., HERE AM I for the priesthood; HERE AM I for the kingship; HERE AM I ready to slaughter my son; HERE AM I ready to be killed. (Midrash Tanchuma Buber Vayera Siman 44:1) 
Saying "Here I Am": One Word, Powerful and full of Meaning:
"Here I am - for every mission, for every command, even the most difficult, for the highest of supreme providence.
‘Here I am’ - for every command from G-d, the most difficult and elevated.
'Here I am' - immediately and without hesitation. Unconditionally.
'Here I am' - all without measure and without distinction.
‘Here I am’ - Stable, complete, absolute, readiness for the King of the World’s calling" (Rabbi Bar Shaul "From the Well" pg 23).
The calling of "Here I am" is derived from the understanding that human life in the world has a purpose: 
“The days of life were given to use them to put into practice something real” (Olat Reiyah Morning Supplications). 
There is also a correlation between assignment and timing in which life appears in the world: "Before I was created, all the unlimited time before I was created, most certainly there must have been nothing in the world that G-d needed me for. Because if I was lacking for some purpose and the completion of something, I would have been created, and the fact that I was not created until this time, is a signal that I would not have been worthy until then, and I was not needed. And now that I have been created, means the time has come for me to complete something in reality". (Olat Reiyah, Part 2, Yom Kippur).
The person's entire life is intended to fulfill a purpose, a great, unique and personal role that is only for him, which can exist only in the particular generation in which he was born. This understanding shapes the person’s sense of mission. HIs life is not just for his personal benefit and pleasure but to fulfill his mission and destiny.
From Abraham Avinu we must learn about the mission in our lives: "And it turns out: Abraham Avinu's "Here I am" is a Torah for Abraham's seed for generations to come. A man of Israel according to his strength, his time and place, should say: "Hineni"- to what is needed of him according to his strength at that time and place. " Here I am" - for all who require him, the collective and individuals. For every mission, whether pleasant or unpleasant, whether easy or difficult, whether of loss or of wages, and only those who answer "Here I am" - for every command, are honored and respected. (Bereshit Rabbah 55)
 "Here I am" - is the way: The way the man goes through in G-d’s world". (Rabbi Bar Shaul "Smell of Water" pg. 47).
The postmodern era challenges the sense of the mission. It challenges the existence of a binding 'absolute truth', and man is only subject to his own desires, subjective insights, personal interests and goals he sets for himself, here and now. 'Mission', on the one hand, means that there is something that is above man, that has absolute and binding truth, and is the compass that directs the purpose of life.
The religious public believes in integration, involvement and partnership with the general society in Israel. In the sectoral internal discourse of the religious public; in the educational systems, in youth movements, in Yeshivot and Ulpenot, in Mechinot and in Seminars - there is an educational discourse of 'mission'. 
Also, in the general society there are frameworks in which this discourse exists, especially in security frameworks, emergency and rescue systems, health, education, welfare, the sector of voluntary bodies and more. 
However, there are frameworks in which the 'mission discourse' has given way to postmodern conceptions: to highlight the motivation for 'self-realization', for feasibility, achievement and competitiveness. The ‘mission discourse’ may be received there cynically and even mockingly, as an archaic, naive and irrelevant concept. 
From Abraham's way we must learn how to cope with the great challenge of the sense of mission of our time, not only to preserve it but even empower it, after all!

Conversion in Israel

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayera - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

The link between the revelation of G-d to Abraham at the beginning of Parashat Vayera, and the end of Parashat Lech Lecha is the Brit Milah: "And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as G-d had said unto him." (Genesis 17:23). The Brit allowed the Divine revelation. This is preceded by the Divine commandment to Abraham and his descendants on the Brit Milah: "And God said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."(Genesis 17, 9-13)).

From this point on, the commandment of the Brit is attributed for generations of Abraham Avinu. .אשר קדשנו במצוותיו להכניסו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו

Circumcision is the sealed sign in our flesh for the covenant that man has with G-d, and this sign also constitutes one of the three conditions for joining the Jewish people: "In three things Israel entered the covenant: circumcision and immersion and sacrifice. And so, for generations, when the non-Jews want to enter the covenant and be under the wings of the Divine Presence and accept the yoke of the Torah, they will need a Brit Milah, an immersion in the mikva and the commandment of a Korban.

Abraham and Sarah were the first to engage in conversion: "The soul that they made in Haran" - … Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women …"(Rashi on Genesis 12, 5).

Since then, the issue of conversion and the joining of gentiles who are interested in joining the people of Israel is a complex issue. Judaism is not a missionary religion that strives to bring everyone into its ranks. However, it views positively the joining of those who are truly interested in it, and are willing to accept the yoke of mitzvot and to be like every Jew from birth.

The complexity of the conversion issue takes on and takes shape in each period according to its characteristics. In recent years it has taken a central place due to the blessed immigration from the former Soviet Union. Several hundred thousand of them are not defined as halachic Jews. They are part of Israeli society and bear the brunt of serving in the army and are entrenched in society. Most of them are considered "Zerah Israel" (seed of Israel), born to a Jewish father and to a non-Jewish mother. In their countries of origin, they were considered Jews and some were persecuted by their surroundings for this reason. Not all of them are interested in converting completely halachically, and do not see any problem in their status. This is a complex and challenging social and halachic situation, because the integration of society leads to the formation of a relationship between those who are defined as halachically Jewish and those who are not halachically Jewish, who cannot marry according to Jewish law (and even are forbidden). And if the mother is not defined as a Jew according to Jewish law, her children are not defined as halachic Jews. Anyone who looks to the future from this problem is likely to worsen in the future to the point of creating a division within Israeli society.

In light of this situation, there were those who sought to solve it by making the conversion process more lenient and adopting halachic approaches to leniency, and relying on the critical fence of Rabbi Uziel Zt"l regarding the "seed of Israel. " Thereby encouraging as much as possible to convert, and reducing the extent of the problem. On the other hand, there are those who believe that this should not be taken lightly. And anyone who wishes to be considered a Jew according to Jewish law must go through a complete and meticulous conversion process that includes receiving the yoke of the mitzvot with sincerity and with a whole heart. Against this approach, some have argued that "one who worsens the laws of conversion is more lenient on intermarriage." However, it has not been proven that the leniencies they think should be taken will indeed cause this large public to convert in droves. There are those who also seek to reduce the dimensions of the problem by using the halachic tool of conversion for minors, but on the other hand, those opposing stringently argue that this option does not exist when parents do not observe Torah and mitzvot. In the course of the discussion, a public debate arises about the exclusive status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, some of whom regard it as the statutory authority that bears state responsibility, as the gatekeeper, and others who attempt to present it as a body whose strict conduct eliminates the chances of solving the problem

In light of the complexity of the issue, there were several attempts to solve it, by enacting a National Conversion Law, while others proposed that the authority be transferred from the national level to the municipal level, unfortunately, in the end, nothing come to fruition. There are various initiatives on this issue, most of which are not practical. Some of them stem from a tendency to uproot conversion from the world of Jewish law, and some stem from simplistic approaches that do not address the complexity of the problem.

Recently, as a result of the High Court of Justice's intervention, the committee of former minister Moshe Nissim sat on the table and formulated controversial recommendations on the one hand, and determined that conversion would be carried out only according to accepted halachic rulings (Orthodox) by qualified rabbinical judges recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. On the other hand, the authority responsible for conversion will be a new body that includes representatives from various bodies, including Reform and Conservative, thereby ending the process of conversion from the exclusive authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Therefore, this committee will probably not bring about a solution in the foreseeable future. The complex reality of the issue of conversion has not yet received a redeeming formula that will solve the problem without creating another problem that is no less serious. And therefore, it will remain at the center of public discourse for a long time.

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