Rachel Petroff Kessler
August 20, 2014
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There came a time when God put Abraham to the test. “Abraham!” God said to him, and Abraham answered, “Here I am.” – Genesis 22:1

As I approach Rosh Hashanah this year, I am wondering about what it means to say, “Hineini, here I am.”

What does it mean to be present, to recognize a test when it is in front of us, and rise to the challenge (let’s for the moment leave aside how problematic I find Abraham’s response to the challenge God placed before him)? And when do we know that we have succeeded?

If saying “Hineini” is about being fully present in the moment, perhaps I am succeeding when I sit on the floor next to my tantruming toddler, letting her know that I acknowledge her pain and will be there with arms and lap wide open when she is ready. Or is this too inward looking? After all, Abraham subjugated the needs of his child in order to fulfill his perceived obligation to forces greater than himself. If I’m putting all my energies into being present for my family, am I closing my eyes to my obligations to the greater community?

As the violence continues to rage on in Israel and Gaza (though God willing this will no longer be the case when this post is published) and the rhetoric on my Facebook feed continues to escalate, am I rising to the challenge by holding back from contributing to the fray or am I shirking my responsibility by remaining silent? Or is this all perhaps some smoke and mirrors, the constant hum of social media keeping me from seeing the true test ahead of me?

I am full of questions: Does every moment require Hineni? When are the moments that we shirk from the challenge in front of us? And when is turning inward the right answer? When the world calls out for us, how do we heed that call while still heeding the call of our children?

Our biblical ancestors had the privilege of direct, two-way communication with God, and however difficult the tests facing them might have been, they at least had the benefit of knowing that those tests were and what was expected of them in response. In this New Year, I pray that we may have the good fortune to recognize the challenges that God places in front of us and to face them with grace and strength. To not miss the forest for the trees, but to not be so committed to the big picture that we can’t revel in the beauty of a leaf. To be as present as possible for our loved ones while also working to make the world a better place for all its inhabitant.

L’shanah Tovah – may we be blessed with a happy and sweet year.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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