The musaf service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is introduced with the chazan’s chanting of “Hineni He-ani,” a solemn prayer expressing the chazan’s feelings of inadequacy as he embarks on the mission of leading the congregation in prayer on this day of judgment. The chazan begs God to help him succeed in properly praying on the congregation’s behalf, pleading that his misdeeds should not sabotage his efforts, and that his prayers should be lovingly accepted. “Hineni He-ani” is traditionally chanted in a somber, haunting melody, with a great deal of emotion.
When the chazan turns to God in the latter section of “Hineni He-ani,” he refers to the Almighty as “God of Avraham, God of Yitzchak and God of Yaakov, the great, powerful and awesome Deity, the Supreme Deity” – the precise text which we use in the introduction to the daily Shemona Esrei prayer. Interestingly, however, the chazan then adds a different reference to God: “Eheyeh asher Eheyeh” – “I am that I am.” This reference to God, which is not used elsewhere in our prayers, is familiar to us from Sefer Shemot (3:14), specifically, from God’s initial prophecy to Moshe at the burning bush. After God commanded Moshe to return to Egypt and approach Pharaoh to demand that he release Benei Yisrael, Moshe asked several questions, wondering how he could possibly succeed in such a mission. Among other things, he asked what he could answer to Benei Yisrael when they would demand to know the Name of the God who he would claim spoke to him. God replied, “Eheyeh asher Eheyeh.” Rashi, based on the Gemara (Berakhot 9b), explains this Name to mean that God promised to accompany Benei Yisrael both in their current state of suffering, in Egypt, as well as in all future situations of crisis. This is the Name which Moshe was to use in informing Benei Yisrael of their imminent redemption – and this Name, intriguingly, is added to the chazan’s emotional plea to God before he begins the musaf service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Meidan, suggested that this Name is included in the “Hineni He-ani” prayer to indicate that the chazan on these days of judgment must feel like Moshe felt at the burning bush. Having fled from Egypt years earlier to escape Pharaoh’s death sentence, and building a new life for himself in Midyan, Moshe is suddenly summoned to return to Egypt and undertake what seemed like an impossible task, to lead a multitude of downtrodden slaves to freedom out of the powerful Egyptian Empire. Moshe, understandably, responded to God’s command by exclaiming, “Who am I that I shall go to Pharaoh, and that I shall lead the Israelites from Egypt?!” (Shemot 3:11). The task seemed wholly impractical, and Moshe – a fugitive who was condemned to execution for murdering an Egyptian official, and who had left Egypt many years earlier – appeared as the least likely person to succeed in persuading Pharaoh to release the slaves. Rav Meidan suggested that the chazan is to feel the same way as he reluctantly accepts the mission of representing the congregation before God. He should see himself as unworthy and incapable of such a vitally important task, and should acknowledge that he can succeed only because “Eheyeh asher Eheyeh” – God has promised to accompany His beloved nation throughout their travails. The chazan is to approach this task confident not in his own credentials, but rather only in God’s limitless compassion and grace, and His eternal promise to assist us when we cry for His help.