Where Am I?

Reb Chanoch Henich of Alexander told this story:

“There was once a fellow who was very forgetful. Indeed, his memory was so short that when he awoke each morning he could not remember where he had laid his clothes the night before. Things got so bad for him that he could not fall asleep, so great was his nervousness about finding his things upon waking.

“One evening, however, he hit on a great idea. Taking pencil and paper, he wrote down exactly where he had placed each item of clothing. Placing his notes on the nightstand, by his bed, he quickly fell asleep, confident that he would find everything just perfectly in the morning.

“And indeed he did. He woke up, took the notes from his night-stand, and read off each item in turn: ‘Pants—on chair back’; and there they were. He put them on. ‘Shirt—on bed post’, and there it was. He put it on. ‘Hat—on desk’; and there it sat. He placed it on his head. In a few minutes the fellow was completely dressed. But suddenly a great dread came upon him.

“‘Yes, yes,’ he said aloud. ‘Here are my pants, my shirt, and my cap; but where am I?’

“He looked and looked and looked, but he could find himself nowhere.”

Reb Chanoch Henich paused for a moment and then concluded, “And that is how it is with each of us as well.”



“Where am I?” This is the existential question Judaism places at the heart of human experience. Not “Who am I?” but “Where am I?” The difference between these two questions is critical.

“Who am I” sets the self in isolation. To answer this question, you must turn inward. Turning inward, you separate yourself from the world around you. “Where am I?” sets the self in relationship. To answer this question, you must turn both inward and outward; you must situate yourself in the world—both the world of self and the world of others. Indeed, to answer the question “Where” you must drop the notion of inward and outward altogether and see reality as a seamless whole of doing, feeling, thinking, and being.

When God calls to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam steps out of hiding and says, “I heard the sound of You in the Garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Adam admits to both his feelings and his actions. He is aware of where he is both physically and emotionally. And with all his fears intact, he steps out of hiding.

This is the ultimate spiritual challenge. Without changing a thing, can you step out of hiding? Most of us imagine that we must change before we can be present to God. We need years of therapy, meditation, and spiritual discipline before we have earned the right to be present. But the truth is that there is nowhere else we can be. Right now, with all your fears, shame, mistakes, and muddleheadednessjust come out of hiding!

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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