The Torah records a peculiar exchange that took place before the Akeidah. Before commanding Abraham to offer up his beloved son Isaac, God called out to Abraham:
And Abraham responded, “Here I am.” (Gen. 22:1)
Why did God call to Abraham by name? And what was Abraham’s response, “Here I am"? Did Abraham think that God wasn’t sure where he was? What was the purpose of this brief exchange?
Truly great individuals, who devote their lives working on behalf of the community — or the nation, or all of humanity — may identify with the needs of the community to such an extent that they neglect their own private lives and aspirations. For example, after the sin of the Golden Calf, God made Moses a remarkable offer. God suggested that the Jewish people would be replaced and rebuilt through Moses’ children. Moses, however, rejected this opportunity for self-advancement at the expense of the people out of hand. “Please forgive their sin,” Moses responded. “And if not, then erase me from Your book which You have written” (Ex. 32:32).
Abraham and Sarah concentrated all of their energies on bringing the world closer to the belief in one God. They “made souls in Haran,” converting people to monotheism. They set up an eshel, a rest-station in Beersheba to spread their message to travelers. They ran a seminary with hundreds of students, and they opened up their home to all visitors. Abraham pleaded for the sake of the wicked people of Sodom — even at the risk of displeasing God. How much time and energy did Abraham and Sarah have left to attend to their own personal needs and ambitions?
What is in a name? Our name reflects our individual nature and personality. When God calls a person by name, this Divine summons highlights one’s personal essence. In order for the trial of the Akeidah to be a true test of Abraham’s free choice, it was necessary for Abraham to be fully cognizant of his own private needs and aspirations. God called out, “Abraham!” — and Abraham immediately became profoundly aware of his innermost desires and goals.
Abraham responded to God’s call, saying, 'Hineini'. “I am here.” I am here, inside myself. I have concentrated myself inwards, to fully feel all my private needs and wants and aspirations.
Including the deep-felt desire, answered miraculously in old age, of fathering a son. A son worthy of following the unique spiritual path his father had forged.
Now Abraham was truly ready for the test of the Akeidah.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 85)