After having sinned in the Garden of Eden, Adam is ‘hiding’ from Hashem and the pasuk says: “And Hashem called forth to Adam and said to him ” where are you?” ( Bereishit 3:9)
Rav Shneuer Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch, was imprisoned by the Russian Government. A Russian officer, who knew the Bible, asked the Rebbe what was the purpose of Hashem’s question to Adam – surely Hashem knew where he was? The Rebbe answered that Hashem’s question of “Where are you?” was really asking “Where are you up to in your life? What have you accomplished with the time I have given you?” This is a question that resounds eternally, asking every person “I have given you so much, what have you done with your life so far? Where are you at and where are you headed?” The officer was so impressed by the answer that he became an advocate for the Rebbe and was instrumental in securing his release .
I read something in the Piascezner Rebbe’s work the “Tzav VeZeruz” which really impacted me, especially the timing of when I read it, after Yom Kippur. He writes that a person needs to ask themselves who they want to be a year from now. To paraphrase – What midot (character traits) will you have worked on? In which specific ways will you have grown spiritually? What will you have added to the world? To your community? How will you be a better husband / wife/ mother/ father/ son/ daughter/ brother/ sister/ friend/ collegue? How will you be a better person? A better Jew? And if one gets to the next year and has nothing to show for it other than a larger bank account or more up to date fashionable accessories, then was that really called a year of life?
The answer to these questions should be written down in a clear format, able to be read and reread daily/ weekly to ensure that one is living daily building towards the vision that they hope for themselves.
This message was indeed like the message of Hashem’s question to Adam. “Where are you now? And where do you want to be?” The Gemara teaches “Rabbi Akiva said: Praiseworthy are you Israel … Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven … ” ( Yoma 85b). According to the simple meaning, the Gemara is teaching us that we are so lucky that come Yom Kippur, Hashem Himself, in His compassion, washes over us the waters of purification and we come out of Yom Kippur with a clean slate. Yet there are those you explain the words with a beautiful variation “Who purifies you? – it is the question “Who??” which is what purifies you. Asking yourself “who am I? Where am I? Who do I really want to be?” is the critical precursor to the purification from Above.
But it is often only before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that such ideas are spoken about. We are all rushing (hopefully) to write our “to do better” lists, to do our soul searching and to ask the big questions. Once the awesome holy days are over, and the festive partying of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are behind us, we take a deep breath and it is so easy not to feel the need to think about these big important questions until next year. But this is so wrong. Now is the time. Now is the time to go back to those lists, to clarify the you that you want to be this time next year. For how can we possibly live day to day like the person that we yearn to be without this clarity of mission and purpose? How can we build the beautiful building without the plans clear and present in our minds?
The month approaching is Cheshvan, known as mar (bitter) Cheshvan, with its bitter absence of any chagim. Nevertheless, it is when the guests have all left and the wedding is all over, that the bride and groom, now husband and wife, need to really do the wonderful work of making their future the beautiful Gan Eden that they envisioned when they stood under the chupah.
May we all be blessed with the clear vision and strength so as to be able to answer the question of “where are you?” with integrity to the person we were put in this world to be.