Why Are You Here?

Reb Avraham of Parisov told this story:

Once I was present when Reb Yaakov Aryeh of Radzymin visited Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotsk. As Reb Yaakov entered the room, the rebbe turned to his guest and shouted: “Yaakov! In a few words tell me: Why are there humans in this world?”

Without hesitation, Reb Yaakov said: “We come into this world to align our souls with God.”

The Kotsker exclaimed: “Nonsense! Why are we here? We are here to lift up the heavens”

Not content with either answer, Reb Avraham would add his own understanding, saying:

“In fact, both sages are correct. We humans are here to align with God and in so doing to uplift the heavens. We know this from the Mechilta (an ancient rabbinic commentary on the Book of Exodus), which teaches that the first five of the Ten Commandments parallel the second five. Thus, ‘I am HaShem‘ goes with ‘Do not murder.'(Exodus 20:13) To kill a human being is to diminish our capacity to bring godliness into the world.

“Thus, when God asks Cain after Cain had murdered his brother, Abel, ‘Where is Abel?’ Cain answers, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'(Genesis 4:9) We should understand Cain to be saying, ‘I did not know that my brother was a keeper of I AM, God; I did not know that by killing  my brother I was weakening the influence of the divine I AM in this world.”‘


Align our souls with God: The relationship between God and soul is analogous to that between the sun and its rays. We are the extension of God in time and space. How, then, can we be misaligned with God? Misalignment is a state of mind that arises when we forget our true relationship with God and act as if God were other.

Lift up the heavens: Can heaven fall that it need be “lifted up”? No. Heaven and earth, up and down, go with each other. What falls is a veil of ignorance that blinds us from seeing the truth. When the veil is lifted, it appears to us that heaven is lifted, but in fact it is as it always was.

HaShem: The Name, Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay, the four-letter Name of God, which is said to convey the essence of the Divine. Unpronounceable both in fact and in theory, the letters are a word play on the Hebrew verb “to be.” God is That Which Is, Was, and Will Be. God is not “a being” or even “the supreme being” but rather Being Itself.

In the Book of Exodus 3:14, God reveals the essence of divinity to Moses: ehyeh asher ehyeh, most often translated as “I AM what I AM.” A more accurate Hebrew translation would be “I will be whatever I will be.” In either case, the Hasidic understanding of the text is the same: God is all that is. God is all that is happening at every moment. God is I AM — not a being or even a supreme being, but Being Itself. That means God is Cain, Abel, you, and me. This is what Reb Avraham means when he speaks of each as being a keeper of the I AM; just as a wave is a “keeper of” the ocean in its particular place and time, so are you a keeper of God in your particular place and time. To realize this about yourself is to realize it about all beings. It is to achieve this realization that you were born and blessed with life.

Published in: on August 16, 2009 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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