During the Alter Rebbe's imprisonment, he was questioned by a government minister who was exceedingly well versed in Tanach
and very knowledgeable about Jewish matters in general. The minister posed the following question to the Alter Rebbe:
"The verse states that G-d called to man (ha'adam) and said to him, 'Where are you?' Didn't G-d know," asked the minister of the Alter Rebbe, "where Adam was?"
The Alter Rebbe answered him in accordance with Rashi's explanation that G-d asked Adam the question "Where are you?" in order to gently begin conversing with Adam, so that Adam would not become startled and disconcerted by G-d's sudden appearance to him. The minister indicated that he was aware of that answer, but he wanted to hear the Alter Rebbe's explanation.
After ascertaining that the minister believed in the eternality of the Torah and its directives, the Alter Rebbe replied: "When a person is, for example, so and so many years old (mentioning the exact age of his questioner), G-d asks him: Where are you? Are you aware of why you were created on this earth? Are you aware of what you are expected to do and how much you actually have done?"
The Previous Rebbe related that the Alter Rebbe's response saved the Alter Rebbe from kalos hanefesh, the soul's ecstatic and blissful expiration and flight from the body. This was because the Alter Rebbe was in a state of great joy and ecstasy for having merited to be imprisoned and to suffer martyrdom for propagating the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and his own master, the Maggid of Mezritch.
But when he considered that G-d asks each of us, "Where are you?' Have you accomplished your mission - as a soul within a body - for which you were placed on earth?" this kept the Alter Rebbe from kalos hanefesh. For it impressed upon him that he must remain in this world and complete the purpose for which his soul had descended here below.
There is a lesson in this for us all:
We must all know that the question "Where are you?" is constantly asked of each and every one of us from above. Moreover, this question and call empowers each of us to perform our own particular form of spiritual service and to attain the destiny for which we were created. Moreover, it empowers us to do this with a true feeling of joy and gladness.
However, the following remains to be understood: While it is true that the above query saved the Alter Rebbe from kalos hanefesh, what is the relationship between the providential question asked by the minister and the Alter Rebbe's actual incarceration?
The Alter Rebbe's arrest was caused by a charge and an incitement - both below as well as on high - against the disclosure of the mysteries of the Torah, the teachings of Chassidus. For the Alter Rebbe revealed and disseminated the mysteries of the Torah to all Jews in a clear and extremely rational manner, something that had never been accomplished before in the annals of Jewish history.
Unlike his predecessors, the Alter Rebbe brought the arcane doctrines of Jewish mysticism into the realm of the intellect and rational faculties (thus the name Chabad, an acronym for the three intellectual powers of Chochmah, Binah and Daas).
As this had a profound impact not only on the Jewish people's rational understanding of G-dly matters but on their entire beings as well, this incited an accusation by the adversary on high. This was also reflected in the denunciation and subsequent arrest here below.
So, too, with regard to the Alter Rebbe's vindication and release. The Alter Rebbe's liberation and redemption signaled "permission" - indeed, a capacity and obligation -from on high to disclose the hitherto concealed elements of the Torah, and moreover, to bring them into the realm of human comprehension through the faculties of Chabad. This was, in turn, reflected here below in the physical liberation of the Alter Rebbe from prison and of the teachings of Chassidus.
Thus it was that subsequent to his liberation, the Alter Rebbe began to reveal the teachings of Chassidus in an even more rational and comprehensive manner.
But how can these most sublime and esoteric teachings be grasped rationally and brought into the realm of finite human comprehension? It would seem that the effect of these lofty doctrines would produce an ecstatic kalos hanefesh, as opposed to calm and cool rational cognition?
However, the Alter Rebbe, even in his state of kalos hanefesh, sensed the call of "Where are you?" That is to say, that man is constantly asked from on high whether he has accomplished the purpose of creation, namely, to transform this lowly, material world into a fitting abode for G-d's manifest presence.
It is the demand of "Where are you?" itself that confers the capacity for the lowly, material beings to become an abode for the Divine Essence, even as they exist within this corporeal world.
The demand of "Where are you?" enables the disclosure of even the most profound aspects of Torah and the most exalted feeling of spirituality here in this world, rather than the aspect of kalos hanefesh, thereby transforming the world itself into a Divine abode.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, pp. 73-75.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 3:9.
- (Back to text) See Midrash Tanchuma, Naso, 7:1; Tanya, ch. 36.