We humans use a lot of adjectives to describe God. Inquisitive isn’t usually on the list. But in the first few chapters of Genesis, God asks three important questions.
The first is posed to Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and hid in the garden. God asks, “Where are you?”
The second question is posed to Cain, after he killed his twin brother. God asks, “Where is your brother Abel?”
In both cases, God knew the answers. Adam understood this. He knew that God wasn’t asking a question of physical location, but rather, psychological. So instead of saying “over here,” Adam answered the essence of God’s question, and said that he was hiding because he was afraid.
Cain isn’t as perceptive as his father. He doesn’t understand what God is asking, and he responds both defensively and truculently: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I have always been fascinated that God’s first question to Cain wasn’t “What did you do?” Nor does God ask, “What happened to your brother?” God doesn’t ask what happened or why. Instead, God wants Cain to consider his relationship with his brother.
Only when Cain fails to answer adequately does God ask the third question: “What have you done?”
Where are you?”
“Where is your brother?”
“What have you done?
Immediately after the High Holy Days in the fall, Jews around the world begin reading the Five Books of Moses again. It’s the same text, year after year. And every year, I’m asked the same question: “Why?” People suggest that instead we study the historical books, think about what the prophets had to say, read the poetry of the psalms and the wisdom of the proverbs.
My answer? Because of God’s three questions in Genesis. Where are you? Where is your brother/sister/the stranger who I have tasked you to care for? What have you done to make the world a better place?
These are the essential questions of human existence, the questions we must ask ourselves repeatedly over the course of our lifetimes. We read the Torah again and again, so that we can confront ourselves with these fundamental questions of human existence.
In “Floating Takes Faith,” Rabbi David Wolpe says of God’s question to Adam, “At each moment in our lives, this question is addressed to us: Where are you? Where are you spiritually? Where are you morally? What have you done with your life, and what are you doing with it now?”
Cain’s questions – the ones he is unable to answer – take us one step further. These questions compel us to consider: Where do I stand in relation to others? Where do I stand in relation to my family, to my community? What have I done to them, and what have I done for them?
As we ponder God’s three questions to Adam and Cain, we are reminded to ask ourselves the same questions. And then we must ask ourselves one more, the question that Hillel asked:
If not now, when?
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Jennifer