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Where am I?

by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

  

Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Lost Child

When I was younger, my father often talked of the proverbial child who never got to school on time. If it wasn’t his pants, it was his hat. If it wasn’t his hat, it was his socks. If it wasn’t his clothing, it was his homework. There was always something missing and he was constantly scrambling to find it.

When I was younger, my father often talked of the proverbial child who never got to school on time. If it wasn’t his pants, it was his hat. If it wasn’t his hat, it was his socks. If it wasn’t his clothing, it was his homework. There was always something missing and he was constantly scrambling to find it.

One day the boy penned a list. “Pants and shirt are on the chair, shoes and socks are beside the bed, my homework is in the school bag and my bag is at the door.” After a moment he added: “And I am in bed.”

The next morning he awoke to find everything exactly where the list indicated it would be, but he still came late to school. Try as he might, he could not find himself in bed.

This proverbial child is us. We are on the constant lookout for gadgets that remind us where we are. A friend recently told me of a new cell phone with a GPS chip. “Now,” he proudly told me, “I can never get lost. My phone will always guide me back home.”

We need to prioritize between the many hats that we wear and choose from the many values that we juggle
A Timeless Question

I caught myself reflecting on the first chat that G-d had with Man. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and G-d descended to investigate. Hearing the celestial footsteps, Adam went into hiding. “Ayekah,” thundered G-d. “Adam, where are you?”1

G-d surely knew where Adam was, but he wanted Adam to know too. Adam had sinned and G-d called him on it. “You have only been alive for ten hours2 and you have already defied my will? What’s with you? Where are you?”3

This kind of question cannot be answered with a GPS signal. No, not this one. Because this is not so much a question of “Where are you,” but of, “Who are you?”

The Identity Question

We live in an ambiguous age and we often find it difficult to identify our true selves. We must decide who and what we really are. At our very core, in our heart of hearts, at our point of quintessence, who are we?

We live in an ambiguous age and we often find it difficult to identify our true selves. We must decide who and what we really are. At our very core, in our heart of hearts, at our point of quintessence, who are we?

Am I a professional or a family member, a husband or a friend, a patriot or a Jew? What is my main role? What is in the forefront? What describes the true me?

We, in the Diaspora, live among host cultures that are larger and more dominant than our own. We often dress like them, act like them and talk like them. We often befriend them, join their social circles and identify with them.

The question, “Ayekah,” echoes through the corridors of time. It pierces the veil of history. Its unceasing demand prompts us to take a stand. We need to prioritize between the many hats that we wear and choose from the many values that we juggle.

What are my primary concerns? Are my secular studies more important than my Torah studies? Is acceptance in the right social circle more important than belonging to the Jewish nation? Is my commitment to my host nation greater than my commitment to Torah?

What to Do?

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 3:9.
  • 2. See Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b.
  • 3. This interpretation is attributed to the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidut Chabad (1745–1812). Beis Rebbe, R. Chaim Meyer Hillman (Kehot Publication Society, 1953) ch. 22. Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) offers a simpler explanation: G-d knew that Adam was tense and sought to calm him with a conversation opener.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Joseph
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.