September 23, 2019

Where ARE you anyway?

The first question God asks a human is a tricky one.

Adam and Eve, having just eaten of the forbidden fruit, hear the voice of God meandering through the Garden amidst the breezy rustlings of the day. God asks them, “Ayekha—Where are you?”  The answer was a simple one. “Hineni—I’m here.”

Biblical commentators pick up on this word “ayekha.” Of course, they say, it’s impossible that the Holy One who had just created the world would NOT know where Adam and Eve were. The question, they surmise, was a spiritual one, not a physical one. Where are you, Adam, that you would transgress God’s command so soon after being brought into the glory of the Garden of Eden? 

Ayekha—Where ARE you?” is a loaded question.

Hineni—I’m HERE,” is not always a simple answer.

There are times in our lives when we are happy, when things are good, when we know there’s no place we would rather be. We cherish these moments, take pictures of them, re-tell the stories years later. 

It is far more difficult to feel the “rightness” of being in difficult places and at sad times. It is a truism of modern psychological and spiritual understanding that sanity and integrity come from mindful awareness. We have to know, to remind ourselves, that we are whole beings in both our joy and our mourning, that “this too shall pass,” whatever it is. The echo of God calling to Adam and Eve at a time of shame, guilt, loss and alienation still calls to us. 

I found out about our friend Jeff’s death in a way that felt completely outside of time or space. My wife and I and our young children had just come back from our first family trip to Israel, arriving home on a Friday. We had a simple Shabbat dinner with old friends who were in town just for a day. We collapsed into disoriented jetlagged sleep. When the phone rang in the wee hours of the morning and Jeff’s wife told us that he was not breathing, had no pulse, and that the paramedics were taking him to the hospital near our home, it took a while for my brain to register. I mumbled something nonsensical and unhelpful and hung up. A minute later the impact of her words hit me and I called her back to tell her that I would of course meet her in the ER.

On top of the jetlag, my family plunged sickeningly from the highs of great family time in a place we love into incomprehension and grief. We did what we do in our community. We figured out how to get the news to Jeff’s kids who were away at college. (Would one of them answer the phone on Shabbat? Would the other be in his dorm room on a Saturday morning? How to break the news to the one at home who slept through the event?) Friends came out to sit shmirah, keeping vigil with Jeff’s body between his death and burial. Taharah, funeral, shiva, gathering far-flung friends and family were all arranged.

In the midst of the sensory overload, sleep-deprivation, and overwhelming sadness, I sometimes felt lost. Was I in Israel or Chicago? Was it day or night? Was a vibrant young father, husband, friend dead or alive?

Driving home from keeping vigil at the funeral home the night before Jeff’s burial, I was spent. I was physically and emotionally drained. At the same time, I felt that there was nothing else in the world that I could or should have been doing. Where was I? Exactly where I was supposed to be.

Hineni. I am here. 

Dr. Michael Slater is president of the board of “> He is a founding member of the Progressive Chevrah Kadisha in the Chicago area. Along with his family, he is a longtime member of Lomdim Chavurah. He is an emergency medicine physician with Sinai Health Systems in Chicago, and is an Assistant Professor at Rosalind Franklin University/The Chicago Medical School.






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Your Life is Over: Do You Know Where Your Soul Is? This is the theme of this year’s Taste of Gamliel series, and we are proud to say that “We’ve Got Soul.”

Taste of Gamliel presentations are short webinars of 60-90 minutes, on-line, and open to all, similar to Gamliel Institute classes.

There are five sessions, February through June, usually once per month, usually, but not always, on Sunday evenings. The classes are free, but we do ask that you register and suggest a $36 donation, which will cover all five classes.  A group of distinguished teachers will be discussing the soul and the afterlife from different perspectives. We are most honored to have Rabbi Burt Visotzky, Rabbi Ellie Spitz, Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits, and Rabbi Goldie Milgram as presenters, with an additional speaker to be announced. Each of our teachers will give their presentations on a separate evening. Subjects and titles will be available shortly.

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. As always, there will be time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. Let’s all have soul! 



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