How Menachem Begin and the Chazzan Have Shaped My Jewish Leadership

Every year on Rosh Hashana, after the Torah has been placed into the Aron, I am deeply moved by the tefillah, Hineni. The chazzan recites the Hineni prayer, humbling himself in front of G-d and admitting, before the entire congregation, that he is neither worthy nor qualified to represent them. Upon confessing that he feels overwhelmed by the work before him, the chazzan then goes on to ask for G-d’s help and compassion as he stands in front of the congregation to plead for mercy on its behalf.

It’s a moving moment, and one in which the congregation can feel the burden and the weight of the chazzan’s responsibility to his people. Every year, I am surprised anew by how this tefillah speaks to me in a deep way. In this moment, I feel as though I’m being invited into a private conversation between the chazzan and the Almighty. It’s a moment of intimacy and a moment of human vulnerability.

Menachem Begin, upon being installed as the new Prime Minister of Israel was asked how he feels about this new responsibility. He replied “On the one hand, it is a terrifying feeling, and on the other it is an exhilarating one. It is a feeling of the highest privilege, and it is a feeling of the deepest humility. It is a feeling of grave responsibility, and it is a feeling of wonderful hopefulness. It is a feeling of sisterhood and of brotherhood, and it is a feeling of solitude. I have the feeling of the chazzan on the high holy days when he stands alone before the holy Ark and he appeals to the Almighty in the name of the whole congregation, and he says to G-d, ‘I have come to plead before you on behalf of your people, Israel, who have made me their messenger, even though I am unworthy of the task. Therefore I beseech you, O L-rd, make my mission successful.’”

As a Jewish educator, I have always felt connected to the Hineni prayer because I believe that it speaks to the humility and the humanity that is required in Jewish education. Our responsibility in educating Jewish children is an important one and, at times, an overwhelming one. We are responsible, as emissaries and leaders, to engage our children with their Jewish heritage. Connecting our children with their birthright and engaging them fully with our traditions is our mission, our responsibility, and our privilege.

Menachem Begin was able to stand before his people in 1977 and speak humbly of the trepidation and awe associated with being a head of state and by doing so, he set an example of humility in leadership that has guided me through the days of awe and propelled me forward into a year of Jewish Leadership.

About the Author
Suzy Israel is the Lower School Principal at Berman Hebrew Academy in Silver Spring Maryland.
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