ויקרא יהוה אלהים אל־האדם ויאמר לו איכה
And HaShem g-d called to The Adam and said “Where are you?”
Here we are again, back at the beginning.
I was reading through the first parsha of the new year, practicing my Hebrew and my trope, when I tripped up in chapter 3, right after the first humans sewed clothes from leaves in shame. Given that I was reading from a pocket sized Tanakh, I paused and squinted, trying to separate out the tiny vowel dots from the tiny and slightly different trope dots. And then, rereading the Hebrew, I got distracted trying to separate out my thoughts on this time when g-d calls out Adam.
“And HaShem g-d called to The Adam and said “Where are you?”
Adam and Chava (Eve) have just eaten the forbidden fruit and, in shame, are literally trying to hide from g-d, lying low in the underbrush wearing newly constructed clothing. Of course, there is no hiding from g-d, either physically or mentally. And, of course, these two have just broken the only rule given to them in paradise. But, g-d doesn’t yell or smite. G-d doesn’t even ask “What have you done?” a question familiar to all and often heard in a parents’ voice.
G-d asks “Where are you?”
Now this seems odd. Clearly g-d can’t mean this literally. G-d is an omnipotent thing who just created the entirety of the universe. So They must know where Adam and Eve are – trying to hide their shame as much as they try to hide their bodies. So the rabbis ask why does g-d say “Where are you?”
Some commentators jump straight to the shaming. The Malbim states “Where are you? That means, where are you spiritually? See how you have fallen!” Some – the Sforna and Or HaChayim – think the question is asking /why/ Adam is hiding from g-d, using where as a stand in. But Rashi takes things in an interesting direction. Rashi – and later the Radak – states that g-d asked this question to open up a conversation, specifying that it was meant to put Adam at ease:
ודע היה היכן הוא, אלא ליכנס עמו בדברים, שלא יהא נבהל להשיב אם יענישהו פתאום
G-d knew where Adam was, but [did this] in order to enter conversation with Adam, lest Adam be frightened to answer, that g-d would punish Adam suddenly. (Rashi to Bereshit 3:9)
As someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort learning to communicate effectively – to make my needs and feelings known and not push them away, to give others space, to listen and to talk compassionately, and to balance all of these in the moment … while often failing on several counts – I found this remarkable. We often think of a thundering loud g-d – the earth shaking voice of Mount Sinai – a g-d who demands attention. Perhaps we think of that still small voice or the burning bush, mystical and hushed. But this G-d almost sounds like a Therapist. There isn’t any accusation or anger, no blame in the Hebrew. Simply “Where are you?”
That isn’t to say that you can just get away with trouble and expect ease. Adam and Chavah don’t stay in Eden after this. And later when g-d uses a question and Cain responds with the flippant and cruel “Am I my brother’s keeper?” g-d cries out in frustration and disappointment – “What have you done!?”
And it isn’t to say g-d is a being of pure detached logic, able to ask “Where are you?” out of dispassion. In fact several commentaries attach g-d’s question to the book Lamentations. Called Eichah (איכה) in Hebrew it starts with and is named the same word g-d asks in Gensis. Rabbi Nehemiah says in Eichah Rabbah 1:1 “There is no expression of “Eichah” that isn’t a lament.” Through that and other midrashim, the rabbis make it clear that g-d is hurting when They ask this question to Adam.
I admit, my feelings and thoughts about this are coming after another rift in a community I’m part of, a group of already disenfranchised folks now seeming to splinter into even smaller parts. This has also been a year in which I lost many friends post divorce, some whom I’d known far longer than my ex. I wish the people posting in the group would hold compassion for others. I wish my friends had reached out, had talked to me in some way before disappearing from my social media and my life. I wish I could hear “Where are you?” – what brought you to this moment, why did you react that way, what happened – instead of people talking over each other in perpetual argument. Or worse, hear a silence that will never be resolved.
Adam and Eve are exiled from paradise for their mistake, forced out of literal paradise to toil and wander and hurt. So many of us are already exiled, from family and homes, from health and support,sometimes we aren’t even at home in our own bodies. And yet we seem so ready to exile other queer and trans folks from our communities.
I want us to recognize that we’re already struggling in a world that isn’t built for us, a world that would rather us be silent or die. I want us to see that we’re all broken and trying our best, that we’re all lamenting the loss of a never known paradise and the shame of our mistakes. Genesis Rabbah teaches us that g-d purposefully created the world with both justice and mercy, because it could not exist with only one. We deserve justice from the world. But we deserve mercy too, from ourselves and from each other.
Where are you? Where are we all when our communities fail each other, in matters of justice and in matters of mercy? Are we hiding in a shrub, covering ourselves to escape detection? Are we subtle and sneaky like the snake, saying the right words and doing the wrong things? Are we playing g-d, exiling those who don’t follow our exact perfect rules?
Or could we all possibly work together in coalition, in mercy and in justice, to keep some small part of that primordial paradise?