G-d called out to the man1 and said to him: Where are you…?! (3:9)
In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on the charge that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For 52 days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.
Among the Rebbe's interrogators was a government minister who possesed broad knowledge of the Bible and of Jewish studies. On one occasion, he asked the Rebbe to explain the verse: "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 classic explanation offered by 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 2says, I already 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. "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 Tov3- 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 - Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister - Where are you? What have you attained?"
1. HaAdam in the Hebrew. The name of the first human being appears in the Torah's account of creation as HaAdam , 'The Man', or as Adam , 'Man'.
2. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchoki, 1040-1105, whose commentary is the most basic aid to understanding the literal meaning of the Torah's words.
3. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, 1698-1760, was the founder of the chassidic movement. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was a disciple of Rabbi Israel's successor, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, and considered himself his 'spiritual grandson'.