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04/06/2015 07:17:00 AM


Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Where Are You?
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

The first question asked of the human being in the Torah is God's question of Adam -- "Where are you?"

Pay attention to the Torah's questions. Read them as if they were italicized, written in red, or underlined. For the questions capture the essence of the Torah's lesson. "Am I my brother's keeper?" "Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice ?" It is as if the question came first and the narrative was written around it as its supporting commentary.

Of them all, no question is as profound as this first question: Where are you? Adam and Eve, having chosen to eat of the forbidden tree, having disobeyed their one commandment in order to gain knowledge, suddenly understand the cold reality of their separation from one another, from nature, and from God, and they feel shame. So they hide. They hide from God, from one another, and from all they should be and could be. "Where are you?"

When the great Hasidic master Shneur Zalman was jailed in St. Petersburg, his jailer, a pious Christian, came to him with a question of faith:

-- If God knows all, then why the game of hide-and-seek; why the question, 'Where are you?'
The rabbi looked deeply into the face of the puzzled jailer, and asked him,

-- Do you believe that the Scriptures speak to every generation?

The pious man replied in the affirmative.

-- Well, then, the question is addressed not only to Adam but to you. You have been alive these 44 years, Where are you?

Hearing his age quoted exactly, a chill ran up the spine of the jailer.

How many years have you been given, and where are you? Where are you on your journey? How much closer to wisdom? How much nearer to completing the tasks for which you were created? How much closer to your dreams? How much closer to those you love? How much wider your circle of concern? How much deeper your friendships? What did you do with My gift of a year of life? What have you done with all your years? Where are you?

We begin each new year with a strange attitude. We are a faith passionate in our love of life. L'chaim! recited each day. But at this time of year, with the new year upon us, we turn to the reality of death, reflecting on the unsettling mystery of the year ahead: "Who shall live and who shall die? Who will attain the length of days and who will taken before their time?"

Only in the reflection of death does each day, each decision, each pursuit take on its true seriousness. Life is finite. We are finite. There aren't an infinite number of tomorrows to accomplish our purposes. Knowing this, we want to hide, to evade, to cry, "Leave me alone to follow my impulses, to have my fun, the serious concerns of life can wait!" But in one form or another God always comes searching for us, always asking, Where are you?

This week begins the Hebrew month of Elul, the month given to deep reflection about the purposes, the accomplishments and the failures of life. We are given a month to search and reflect, to study and to judge ourselves before the new year begins. It is a time to find a quiet corner of life and ask, with all honesty and courage, God's penetrating question, Where are you?

It isn't easy. To look at ourselves truthfully -- without the defenses, the evasion, the excuses normally marshalled to cover up our disappointments and shortcomings -- can be frightening. For this reason, the tradition added Psalm 27, a powerful statement of faith, to the daily liturgy.

"Mine is the faith that I shall surely see
the Lord's goodness in the land of the living.

Hope in the Lord and be strong.

Take courage, hope in the Lord."

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780