Where Are You?
By Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
Nachmanides (R' Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, of Gerona, Spain, one of the
leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages; successfully defended Judaism at
the dramatic debate in Barcelona in 1263) opens his renowned commentary on
the Bible expounding on the narrative chosen to begin the Torah. Although
the Torah is not a history book, rather it is a guidebook for life ("Torah"
translates literally as "guidance" or "teaching"), the Torah starts with the
creation of the universe and not the first commandment given to the Jewish
people as a nation, the declaration of the new month. Amongst the rationales
tendered is the lessons to be learned from all those who were expelled from
their homeland (Adam, Cain, the Generation of Dispersion after the Tower of
Babel, all similar to the Jewish people in today's exile) because they did
not follow the word of G-d.
Two of the most famous sins in the history of the human race occur in this
week's Torah portion. The consumption of the fruit from the Tree of
Knowledge (by the way, it wasn't an apple) by Adam and Eve and the murder of
Abel by Cain are two acts that changed the course of world history.
Interestingly, greater punishment was inflicted for the evasion of
responsibility by Adam and Cain than for the sins themselves. When G-d calls
out to Adam "Where are you?" after he has eaten (Beraishis/Genesis 3:9),
Rashi points out it is an effort to gently approach him so that he might
repent for the violating G-d's trust. How does he respond? "The woman You
gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate." (3:12) An ingrate,
Adam casts the blame on the woman G-d had given him as a mate, afforded to
him by G-d as an act of kindness. Nachmanides explains the ingratitude on
the basis of the introduction of G-d's punishment to Adam. "Because you
listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree about which I
commanded you saying, 'You shall not eat of it,'" (3:17) indicates G-d's
wrath was directed at his foolishness in listening to her contrary to the
command of G-d, that the ultimate blame lay at his feet. G-d gave Adam the
chance to repent; he squandered it.
Rashi indicates that G-d gave Cain the same opportunity in His gentle query,
"Where is Abel your brother?" (4:9) Kli Yakar (commentary on the Pentateuch
by Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunshitz, c.1550-1619, Rosh Yeshiva/Dean in Lemberg
and Rabbi of Prague) indicates that Cain understood the depth of the
question, but he lacked an appreciation of his obligation to safeguard the
well being of his fellow man. Nevertheless, explains Kli Yakar, common sense
obligated Cain to comprehend that the human race had no future with
unregulated homicide. He, too, had the chance to repent, but wasted it. But
when his life sentence of endless wandering was felt to be too taxing, he
begged G-d for mercy and leniency, and his request was granted. He may have
discovered teshuva, repentance and return to the path of G-d, a little too
late, but he did, eventually, realize that G-d always welcomes us warmly
when we choose to return to His path.
Rosh HaShanah. Yom Kippur. Succos. Simchas Torah. We have spent the last many
weeks discussing the inspiration to be drawn from these holidays. But the
reality is that we do not live our lives in the cocoons of these holidays.
We now venture out into our everyday world with our everyday challenges
where our newly inspired selves must face the realities that come with
There will be some failures. We will not rise to meet all the challenges we
should. The Rosh HaShanah season may be over, but G-d is not a seasonal
acquisition. Don't shift the blame. Don't squander the opportunity. He is
always waiting with open arms, calling to us, gently, invitingly, "Where are
Have a good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish
Studies 5007 West Keefe Avenue; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 414-447-7999