Thursday, December 08, 2022

Carl Honore is the author of the book: “In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cult of Speed.” In a TED Talk he gave on the topic of his book, Mr. Honore explains what motivated him to research the topic of “slowness”:

“[M]y wake-up call came when I started reading bedtime stories to my son, and I found that at the end of day, I would go into his room and I just couldn’t slow down… I’d be speed reading “The Cat In The Hat.” … skipping lines here, paragraphs there, sometimes a whole page, and of course, my little boy knew the book inside out, so we would quarrel. And what should have been the most relaxing, the most intimate, the most tender moment of the day, when a dad sits down to read to his son, became instead this kind of gladiatorial battle of wills, a clash between my speed and his slowness.

“And this went on for some time, until I caught myself scanning a newspaper article with timesaving tips for fast people. And one of them made reference to a series of books called “The One-Minute Bedtime Story.”

“My first reflex was to say, Hallelujah!... But thankfully, a light bulb went on over my head, and my next reaction was very different, and I took a step back, and I thought, “Whoa -- you know, has it really come to this? Am I really in such a hurry that I’m prepared to fob off my son with a sound-byte at the end of the day?” And I put away the newspaper -- and I was getting on a plane -- and I sat there, and I did something I hadn’t done for a long time -- which is I did nothing. I just thought, and I thought long and hard. And by the time I got off that plane, I’d decided I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to investigate this whole roadrunner culture, and what it was doing to me and to everyone else.”

Every Rosh Hashanah, we retell the story of Akeidas Yitzchak, in the tefillos of both days, and in the Krias HaTorah of the second day. And presumably we do so because there is something so incredible about this act, some strength found within it that is so profound, every Jew must learn from it.

Imagine the scene, Avraham is walking with Yitzchak, and Yitzchak is given no information. All he sees is some wood, rope, a rock for making a fire, and a shechita knife. And Yitzchak starts to get a little suspicious. After all, he has seen his father throw out his eldest brother from the house. And now, he sees all the makings of a great sacrifice, but no animal.

So he asks his father a question. But the truth is, he asks almost nothing. He says one word, “Avi?” “Abba?” He was testing his father, to see if Avraham’s paternal love was still burning for his son, or if he had turned that love off, ready to murder him. So, Avraham answers him: “Hineni Bni,” “I’m here for you, my son.” Revealing, says the Kli Yakar, “שעדיין כל געגועיו עליו,” that he still longed for his son, he still loved him. Yitzchak now feels comfortable asking his father what is happening and Avraham reveals that, indeed, this journey was commanded by Hashem, and that “He will show us the sheep, my son,” At this point, everything changes: וילכו שניהם יחדיו. They continue together, as one, to fulfill the unimaginable command of the Almighty.

It is this word, “Hineni,” “I am here for you, Yitzchak. There is nothing else, and no one else on my mind,” It is this statement that calms Yitzchak and allows him to continue.

And I would argue that this word, Hineni, is the most powerful and most central word in the entire story of the akeida. When God originally comes to Avraham to tell him about this final test, Avraham has his response ready. Before he even hears the command, he tells the Ribono Shel Olam, “Hineni.” Rashi there explains this is “a language of humility, a language of preparedness.” Avraham is telling Hashem, “I am here to do whatever it is you will ask of me. You have my undivided attention.

And at the end of the story, he is called by the Angel. “Avraham! Avraham!” And what does he answer? “Hineni.” “I am ready again, to do whatever it is you may ask of me. You have my undivided attention.”

But what is it about this one word? This idea of Hineni, that allows it to play such a crucial role in one of the most famous stories of the Jewish people? I believe the answer is that being fully present is one of the most important features of every facet of our lives as Torah Jews.

As we have begun the Living Connected initiative, numerous individuals have responded so positively, hoping we can all be successful in truly being more present for each other.

A young woman told me she and her husband have already decided to put their phones in the other room for a half hour each evening, just to talk.

A local psychologist told me that she hears daily from children who are so grateful when their parents sit down to play a game with their phones nowhere to be seen.

The most valuable commodity we can give our spouses, our children, and everyone in our life, is something that costs nothing at all: Our undivided attention.

And if it’s true in our relationship with others, how true it is in our relationship with Hashem.

We all have the power to choose to be more present when we daven, learn, or attend a shiur, by placing our phones on “do not disturb” or leaving them outside the room entirely.

We have become so concerned with missing out on an email, a status update or a score. It’s time we become more concerned with missing out on life.

On Rosh Hashanah, as the chazzan prepares to stand before Hashem on our behalf, he recites a tefillah said with fear and trepidation, but also a tefillah said with excitement because of the opportunities the year ahead brings. And that tefillah begins with a remarkable statement: “Hineni HeAni”: “Abba, I’m back. HINENI. I might only be me, the ani, a person who hasn’t always gotten it right, but at least I’m here, I’m totally here. You have my undivided attention.”

Carl Honore added one more point at the end of his talk about the impact this change in perspective has had on his life:

“A few months ago, I was getting ready to go on another book tour, and I had my bags packed. I was downstairs by the front door, and I was waiting for a taxi, and my son came down the stairs and he’d made a card for me. And it said, ‘To Daddy, love Benjamin.” And I thought, “Aw, that’s really sweet. Is that a ‘good-luck-on-the-book-tour’ card?” And he said, ‘No, no, no, Daddy—this is a card for being the best story reader in the world.’ ”

Yehi Ratzon, that if we take it upon ourselves to live a life of Hineni, to be there, really be there, both for our families and for Hashem, He should respond to our tefillos, and answer us clearly, “Hineni Bni.” “I am here for you, too.”

Rabbi Beni Krohn serves as the rabbi at Young Israel of Teaneck and Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshiva University.

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