Vayeshev: Here am I

Vayeshev: Here am I

“And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I” [Hineni, Hebrew for “Here am I] (Gen. 37:13).

Rashi, the great medieval commentator (d. 1105), notes that the language of Joseph’s response suggests both humility and eagerness. “He was eager to fulfill the request of his father,” Rashi observes, “despite the fact that his brothers despised him.”

How could Joseph express such a readiness to journey alone to his brothers, knowing they resented him so strongly? It was because Joseph was so imbued by his Divine mission that he assumed this journey, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

The biblical text itself hints to us to look earlier at another great man of faith, Abraham. Much of the same language used to describe Abraham’s journey to sacrifice Isaac is used to describe Joseph’s journey to his brothers in Shechem. There too Abraham responds to God’s charge with extraordinary readiness: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am [Hineni]” (Gen. 22:1). The Bible relates that Joseph’s brothers “saw him afar off” (Gen. 37:18); when Abraham journeys toward the mount, he “lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off” (Gen. 22:4). Joseph’s brothers declare that after Joseph’s destruction, “we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Gen. 37:20). After Abraham is relieved from sacrificing Isaac, he names the mount Adonai yireh, which means “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Gen. 22:14).

Joseph knew that even if he could not necessarily read it in the events themselves, there was nonetheless a Divine logic to his life. He sensed that each of the experiences would play a role in fulfilling the dreams of the sheaves and the stars. Thus, when Jacob sent Joseph on this potentially dangerous mission, Joseph responded unequivocally. This is the force of his response: “Hineni.”

When Joseph and his brothers were finally reunited in Egypt, Joseph reassured his brothers that his earlier travails were not the result of their hostility, but were, rather, a part of God’s plan. His speech is filled with this awareness: “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:8). “For God did send me before you,” he tells them (Gen. 45:5). “And God sent me before you” (Gen. 45:7).

To each of us comes a call that requires of us commitment, tenacity, and sacrifice. It is at such moments that we are judged. Did we respond, “Here am I”?

“I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, And who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me.” (Isa. 6:8)

Reprinted by permission from “Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership,” where it appears with this note: “The year 1998 was a difficult one for President Clinton. Even in times of difficulty, a leader must retain a great sense of purpose and mission and not allow the turbulence of life to distract from the greater resolve for accomplishment.” (See ‘Torah Mail to the Chief,’ page 8.)