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Where Are You?

Where Are You?


In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on charges, put forth by the opponents of Chassidism, that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For fifty-two days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.

Among the Rebbe’s interrogators was a government minister who possessed broad knowledge of the Bible and Jewish studies. On one occasion, he asked the Rebbe to explain the verse (Genesis 3:9), “And G‑d called out to the man and said to him: ‘Where are you?’” Did G‑d not know where Adam was?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman presented the explanation offered by several of the commentaries: the question “Where are you?” was merely a “conversation opener” on the part of G‑d, who did not wish to unnerve Adam by immediately confronting him with his wrongdoing.

“What Rashi says, I know,” said the minister. “I wish to hear how the Rebbe understands the verse.”

“Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?” asked the Rebbe. “Do you believe that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?”

“Yes,” replied the minister.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was extremely gratified to hear this. The czar’s minister had affirmed a principle which lies at the basis of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the very teachings and ideology for which he was standing trial!

“‘Where are you?’” explained the Rebbe, “is G‑d’s perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days,”—here Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister—“Where are you? What have you achieved?”

Told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on 19 Kislev, 5718 (December 12, 1957), on the occasion of the 159th anniversary of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s release from prison.

Biographical notes:

Rabbi Schneur Zalman Boruchovitch of Liadi, also known as the “Alter Rebbe” and “The Rav,” was born in Liozna, White Russia, in 1745. In 1764 he became a disciple of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, the second leader of the chassidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov. In 1772, Rabbi Schneur Zalman established the “Chabad” branch of Chassidism. For twenty years he labored on his Tanya, which, published in 1796, became the “bible” of Chabad Chassidism, upon which hundreds of works and thousands of discourses by seven generations of Chabad rebbes and their disciples are based. The nineteenth of Kislev, the day on which he was released from czarist imprisonment in 1798, is celebrated to this day as the “New Year for Chassidism,” for that event marked the start of a new period of expansion for the movement. Rabbi Schneur Zalman passed away while fleeing from Napoleon’s armies in December 1812.

Translated by Yanki Tauber in Once Upon A Chassid (Kehot, 1994).
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Anonymous Malta November 20, 2013

What does it mean to be fully human? When G-d asked Adam where he was, he was really asking him to think about who he was. Reply

Mike Stanislavsky San Francisco, CA November 25, 2010

What a simple and good article! well written, thank you Reply

susan NF, NY December 4, 2009

where are you? As I understand G*D called out to Adam, asking, "Where are you?" was more a reference to Presence. Because Adam was alway in the presence of G*d. G*d knew what was wrong before he asked the question. Hes All knowing. G*d asked Adam so he could reflect on what he did. HIDING from G*D. But no longer in G*Ds presence. Adam was alway in G*Ds presence until he sinned. It was not said to just ask a question, but as a means to say, Look what you did! In essence of "shaming" Adam, that realization cause the shadow or distance by sin! He hid from G*D! As Adam so do we HIDE from G*Ds presence when we sin. Its a forgotten choice to be in G*Ds Presence. What Adam caused; is why we live in the shadow of that action, no longer able to to be in G*D. Until we realize sin separates it, we cant begin to come into G*D's presence! I believe it was Why G*D asked Adam so he could realize his sinfulness. caused him to hid. Like a child who hides when shamed. We hide! Reply


STORIES I really enjoy reading and hearing these stories of the rebbeim. Reply

Anonymous Milwaukee, WIi December 13, 2006

The toughest job you'll ever love? Earlier this week you at described a rebbe who was told to allow himself to be arrested; that if he fled he would be responsible for all the Jews he represented losing their material possesions. I can see why people cherish their rebbe. But what a job! Reply

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