The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the Akeidah — the testing of Avraham to bind his son and prepare him as an offering to Hashem. Many have wondered, “What constitutes the greatness of Avraham?” Throughout history Jews were not just tested, but literally martyred for the sake of Hashem.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, in his famous work sefer Likkutei Amarim — popularly known as “Tanya — offers the following explanation. “It was not the act itself, for there are numerous saints who gave their life for the sanctification of Hashem, even though He did not speak to them. However, Avraham did this with ‘zerizut’ — ‘wondrous alertness’ — as the Torah states, ‘vayashkeim Avraham baboker’ — ‘Avraham rose early in the morning’ — to show his joy and desire to fulfill the will of his Master and to cause gratification to his Master ” (Iggeret Hakodesh 21).

According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok, one of the foremost students of the Maggid of Mezritch, Avraham’s uniqueness is that he was the first to face such a difficult challenge, and when he triumphed he “opened the channel of mesirat nefesh — martyrdom — for future generations” (see Pri Ha’aretz, Vayeira).

Perhaps we can add another dimension to our appreciation of Avraham’s greatness and the message being conveyed to all of humanity, particularly in contemporary times.

There is no doubt that anyone would comply if Hashem spoke to him personally and asked him to do what He asked of Avraham. Undoubtedly, the person would prepare himself accordingly for the fulfillment of this monumental task. For weeks he would remain in seclusion to sanctify and elevate himself, and needless to say, he would not want to be interrupted by anyone during this period.

Let us now take a look at Avraham’s conduct. After years of childlessness, Avraham’s unequivocal reply to the Divine test was “Hineini,” — “Here I am” — I am ready. As father and son ascend the mountain, we read, “Vayomer Yitzchak el Avraham aviv, vayomer avi, vayomer hineni b’ni” — “And Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ ”

We can well imagine how engrossed Avraham was in his thoughts and meditations and how unwilling he was to be interrupted. Nevertheless, when his son called him, he abandoned his lofty activities and responded immediately, “Hineni b’ni” — “Here I am, my son.” The devoted first Jewish father and teacher of humanity realized that his child was his first priority and deserved preference over all other matters.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once related the following incident involving Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chassidut and his son Rabbi DovBer, who later succeeded him as Rebbe and leader of Chabad. Rabbi DovBer was known for his unusual power of concentration. Once, when Rabbi DovBer was engrossed in learning, his baby, sleeping in a cradle nearby, fell out and began to cry. The infant’s father did not hear the cries. However, the infant’s grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who was in his study on the upper floor, and who was also engrossed in his studies at that time, did hear the cries. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked up the baby, soothed it and placed it back in its cradle. To all this, the infant’s father remained oblivious.

Subsequently, Rabbi Shneur Zalman admonished his son: “No matter how engrossed one may be in the most lofty occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child.”

In contemporary times, parents are preoccupied and often do not have time for their children. The child may be trying to get his parent’s attention and the parent, who is relaxing or pursuing his usual pastimes, rebuffs the child and tells him, “Don’t bother me now; can’t you see I’m busy?”

Throughout history many have died “al kiddush Hashem — “sanctifying Hashem’s name.” When the time came for them to perform a magnanimous act for the sake of Hashem they complied valiantly, but unfortunately not many have had time and patience for their children. Avraham however passed his test with flying colors.

Reading the story of the Akeidah, on this auspicious day, is a reminder that our challenge is to always be attuned to the call of our children and to respond immediately “Hineni b’ni” — “Here I am, my son.”