Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Here I stand, impoverished of deeds, trembling and frightened with the dread of He Who is enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

I have come to stand and supplicate before You for Your people Israel, who have sent me although I am unworthy and unqualified to do so.

Therefore, I beg of you, O God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, HaShem, HaShem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, God of Israel, Frightening and Awesome One, grant success to the way upon which I travel, standing to plead for mercy upon myself and upon those who sent me. Please do not hold them to blame for my sins and do not find them guilty of my iniquities, for I am a careless and willful sinner. Let them not feel humiliated by my willful sins. Let them not be ashamed of me and let me not be ashamed of them. Accept my prayer like the prayers of an experienced elder whose lifetime has been well spent, whose beard is fully grown, whose voice is sweet, and who is friendly with other people. May you denounce the Satan, that he not impede me. May You regard our omissions with love, and obscure our willful sins with love. May You transform all travail and evil to joy and gladness, to life and peace, for us and for all Israel, who love truth and peace. And may there be no stumbling block in my prayer.

May it be Your will, HaShem, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the great, mighty, and awesome God, “I Am That I Am,” that all the angels who bring up prayers may present my prayer before Your Throne of Glory; may they spread it out before You for the sake of all the righteous, devout, wholesome, and upright people, and for the sake of the glory of Your great and awesome Name, for You hear the prayer of Your people Israel with compassion.

Blessed are You, who hears prayer.

- Hineni (t’filat l’sh’liach tzibur kodam musaf - The Chazzan’s Prayer)
[Among many Conservative and Orthodox Jews, there is a custom of not spelling out the name of God lest one inadvertently profane it; thus, you will often see the spelling G-d. While intending no disrespect to those who follow that practice, my own custom is to spell the word out in English and to use appropriate substitutes in the Hebrew (such as “HaShem,” literally “The Name”) to avoid inappropriate usage.]

Hineni is the prayer of the Chazzan, the individual selected by the congregation to lead the prayer service and thus to function as their representative in a Full-Bore Dialog with The Big Guy.

It’s a pretty serious responsibility.

Hineni puts one in the right frame of mind. Traditionally, the white-clad Chazzan chants it with a haunting, plaintive melody while he slowly walks the center aisle from the rear of the sanctuary to the height of the Bimah (the raised platform in front of the Ark). And unlike Kol Nidre, during which congregants will sing quietly along with the Chazzan as he threads his way through the challenging twists and turns of the melody, Hineni is solely the prayer of the Chazzan: there is a silence that is thoroughly remarkable given the size of the congregation (and the normal level of background noise).

Coming as it does at the end of Shacharit, the morning service, Hineni falls roughly two-thirds of the way through a 25+ hour no-food-or-water fast. The breath begins to take on that old Dry-Mouth Funk; the vocal cords are dry. But somehow, it all seems to come together.

Our greetings this time of year draw upon the imagery of the season, in which our fate for the coming year is written down in the great Book of Remembrance. Whether you believe it as literal truth or not, it’s a beautiful metaphor that recognizes that, while we are essentially powerless over our destiny, our actions - repentance, prayer, and charity - all have a positive impact, helping to avert the Severe Decree.

This expression of well wishes is traditionally Jewish, but it transcends all religious boundaries: May all of my family and friends - and all of the people I care about and who have made the world a better place - be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

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