After reading this week’s Torah portion, Naso, I continued my studies by reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s essays found in his book series Covenant & Conversation, Numbers: The Wilderness Years. The essay What Counts? discussed the census at the beginning of the book of Numbers, B’midbar in Hebrew.
As always when reading Rabbi Sacks’s works, they are so infused with a passion for Torah and a love of Hashem that I must often remind myself that he passed on. I cannot believe this brilliant man is gone. Fortunately, and with much gratitude to Adonai, the Rabbi’s works live on.
One point Rabbi Sacks made in this essay was the importance of the individual to Hashem. He quoted one of my favorite Psalms (147:4) which says that Adonai “counts the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” He went on to say:
A name is a marker of uniqueness. Collective nouns group things together; proper names distinguish them as individuals. Only what we value do we name. God gives even the stars their names. All the more so does this apply to human beings, on whom He has set His image. When God calls, He calls our name, to which the reply is simply, “Hineni,” “Here I am.”
And that’s when it hit me.
Hebrew is an amazing language with a message for all humanity encoded into the very letters themselves. Learning to read and speak Hebrew will only enhance one’s Biblical studies, so I strongly encourage digging in as soon as possible. But this time, English came through, and not just the words but a smidgeon of punctuation, too.
What first leapt off the page at me was the fact that with the simple addition of a comma, one could render the response, “Here, I am,” or even better, “Here, I AM.” The focus is taken off the person and placed with much respect on Adonai Himself. The reply acknowledges Him by name in the same way a student might say, “Here, Mrs. Smith” when being called on by a teacher or other authority figure.
The second way I saw and understood the reply “Here I am” was as a bridge between myself and our Father, Avinu, who is also our King, Malkeinu. This perspective enabled me to see that while Adonai the King often seems to be over there because He is so vast, there is nothing else, and “in Him we live and move and exist” (CJB), Adonai the Father is also right here because He breathed into humanity, and I am a living soul. In other words, what many call the divine spark resides within me.
It’s as if Adonai said, “There I AM, here I AM, and everywhere in between I AM because where could you possibly go that I AM not?” We are in Hashem, and He is in us. Please do not hear me say that I am in any way equal to Adonai; I am merely a conduit through whom He speaks. But it is because He is in me that I, created in His image, can answer “Here I am” knowing that “here He is.”
Lastly, as Rabbi Sacks mentioned in a footnote included in the passage above, when Hashem calls our name, He often does so twice. It is done as an expression of love, an endearment. My favorite instance of this is when Yeshua spoke Martha’s name twice thus elevating this humble woman to the level of the patriarchs. But that’s a discussion for another time.
May Adonai call on you, and when He does, may you remember to simply say, “Here I am.”
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Sacks, Jonathan. “What Counts?” Numbers, The Wilderness Years, First ed., Maggid Books & The Orthodox Union, New Milford, CT, 2017, pp. 76–77.