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Hineni

The noblest Congress of them all.

11:00 PM, Feb 22, 2007 • By LARRY MILLER
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THERE ARE TWO WAYS to say "I'm here" in Hebrew. Like any language, there are probably lots more, but here are the top two.

"Po ani" means I'm here, or I'm present, or just present, the correct form when someone is, say, taking the roll. We used that one in Hebrew school when I was a kid. Brill? "Po Ani." Ingber? "Po ani." Littman? "Po ani." Miller? Miller? Miller? (Okay, most of the time I'd cut class to watch Soupy Sales, but I still remember what po ani means and I think that's pretty good. Besides, we thought laughing really hard at comedians had a kind of Talmudic value anyway, turning jokes into prayers, sort of a Jewish version of transubstantiation.)

The more formal or deeper expression is "Hineni" (pronounced hee-nay-nee). It means "Here I am," and is mostly used when God personally calls on someone in the Bible to do something difficult and important. Abraham? "Here I am." Moses? "Here I am." It's very complete and emotionally charged, and implies, "Here I am: ready, willing and able." There's a special prayer on Yom Kippur called "Hineni" which starts, "Here I am in deep humility . . . "

I don't know if God is making a lot of personal calls these days, but I have a feeling most of our responses as contemporary Americans would be slightly more equivocal, at least initially, and would at one point include, "Okay, sure, but . . . It's a little sudden, that's all. Hang on, let me turn the game off."

"Here I am" is a powerful and layered statement, but there's another meaning to hineni, even deeper and more resonant: Here I stand.

Here I stand. It's not a meek thought; it's a bottom line. "Here I stand. Here I will make my stand. I know what will most likely happen, but it does not matter, since I will not be moving. This is where I am going to make my stand. Hineni."

Christians and Jews have said one or another form of this many times in our histories; the Alamo and the Warsaw Ghetto are just two. It is, in many ways, the liturgical opposite of what is going on in Washington these days.

WHAT STARTED THIS bouncing around in my head was the headline in the Los Angeles Times, last Saturday: "House Takes Stand Against Troop Buildup."

And I thought, "Really? That's what they're taking? A stand? Is that what this is? A principled stand? This . . . non-binding thing, whatever it is?

That's my favorite new phrase in politics: non-binding. What does it even mean? Do you realize that, outside of Washington, D.C., nothing in life is "non-binding"?

"I had twelve drinks last night, but they were non-binding." Then I guess there's no headache. Lucky you.

"I slept with a waitress from the Airport Marriott in Hartford, but she and I both agreed it was non-binding." Good luck with that, and let me know if that rash is non-binding, too.

"I was yakking so much on the phone in the car the other day, I rammed the guy in front. Lucky for me, it was non-binding."

"I got fired, but it's non-binding." So is your rent.

"Okay, Doc, give it to me straight. Is the cancer benign or malignant?" "Even, better, son. It's non-binding." "Wow, great. How about your bill?"

You get the point. A resolution expressing disapproval? "Expressing"? Metamucil is more binding than this thing.

BUT OF COURSE, that's not the point for them, is it? Not for Congress. The point is not to act, but to appear to act, to fiddle, as it were, one flaccid member after another (so to speak), and I mean all of them. To spend afternoons moisturizing their tan, soft faces till they glisten; to look warmly at people and nod when they listen; to knot their ties exactly the same every day.

But not to act. Never to act. Never to use their powers, the only reason they're there in the first place.

Never to say, "Here I stand."

WHICH WOULD all normally be okey-dokey with me. These peacocks can preen all day long if they want and leave the rest of us to our work and families. Except that just now the stakes are a weensy bit higher than usual. So, dear and respected congresspersons, forgive me, but if you're all against it so big-time, fine, then do your damn job and pull the damn plug. But if you're just trying to hedge a bet and waste time and hold forth without risking anything, do us all a favor and go to . . . Baghdad.

"During war, politics stops at the water's edge." Have you heard that one? A great sentiment with one tiny flaw: It's not true. Probably never was. Stop at the water's edge? You kidding? That's where it starts.

Do it or don't, fund it or don't, push or pull, but for God's sake, pick one, and if you're not going to stop the money, shut up and sit down. We'll call you when it's over, and you can stand up again and go back to hooking your thumbs in your braces and speechifying.