Where are You and Why Aren’t You Here?

This past Shabbos Rabbi Menachem Leibtag gave the Sicha in Gush.  He made a fascinating textual point about last week’s Parsha.  

When God seeks Adam in Gan Eden after the sin, he asks “איכה”.  

בראשית פרק ג

(ט) וַיִּקְרָא יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהִים אֶל הָאָדָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַיֶּכָּה: 

R. Liebtag noted that there are two words that mean “where?”  The first is איה and the second is איפה.  However, they have different connotations. איפה  is used when you want to know someone’s location.  For example, when Yosef is looking for his brothers, he says

בראשית פרק לז

(טז) וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ הַגִּידָה נָּא לִי אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים:


איה  is used when the question is “why isn’t that person or thing here?.”  For example, when Yitzchak notices that there is no sheep, despite the fact that they are going to bring one as a korban, he says

בראשית פרק כב

(ז) וַיֹּאמֶר יִצְחָק אֶל אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּנִּי בְנִי וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה הָאֵשׁ וְהָעֵצִים וְאַיֵּה הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה: 

The absence of the sheep is conspicuous. 

Similarly, when we say that we don’t want the nations to say איה נא אלוקיהם, we mean that we don’t want the nations to note a seeming absence of God. 

With that as a background, he noted that God’s question was really, “why aren’t you here?”  The story is about Adam’s loss of relationship with God, and the mending of it.  Man is absent from God’s presence, so God re-initiates a conversation.   The relationship begins to be mended, as is evident when God removes man’s shame by clothing him.  Man should never be lacking from God’s presence – and the story of Gan Eden is a story of man’s distancing himself from God and the attempt to remove that distance.[1] 

[1] As a side note, I would add that Chazal seemed to have picked up on this linguistic cue in another context.  When the angels come to Avraham as pagans, they ask

בראשית פרק יח

 (ט) וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל:

Rather than seeing this as a simple answer of where she was, Chazal provide an explanation for why she was absent:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף פז עמוד א

+בראשית יח+ ויאמרו אליו איה שרה אשתך ויאמר הנה באהל – להודיע ששרה אמנו צנועה היתה.


6 thoughts on “Where are You and Why Aren’t You Here?

    1. Thanks for the reference: I found a review of the book that notes this point:
      “God asks Adam, “Where are you?” Why would God ask a question he already knows the answer to? The author observes that there are two Hebrew words for “where”: eiphoh and ayeh. Eiphoh simply seeks a location.This is not the word the Torah uses when it records God’s question, “Where are you?” Ayeh does not seek a location. It connotes something else: not to find out where something is, but
      to express wonder that the thing is not here. As in Isaac’s question to Abraham
      when they trek to Mount Moriah: “Here’s the fire, but where is the lamb for the offering?” Isaac knows that there is no lamb. His point is not to ask if it was left back at the shack. His point is, there is no lamb here when, by rights, there should be. This apparently innocuous remark by Isaac packs emotional punch, because
      in it Isaac begins to realize the terrifying truth–there is no ram here, after all, and
      that maybe, therefore, he is the ram. And so, when God asks Adam, “Where are you?” God means: What happened to the Adam who possessed a moral capacity, the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood? Where is the crown of My creation? What happened to him? In Hebrew,this “where” can also mean “lament.” It is the opening word in the Book of Lamentations, read on Tishah B’Av.
      “Where are you?” is, in this instance, less a question than a lament.

      1. Reb Jonathan, thank you for sharing this דּבּרּ תּוּרּהּ, but I don’t understand something. You talked about the difference between אּיּהּ and אּיּפּהּ , but technically not אּיּכּהּ . Now I understand the two words (of Ayeh and Ayeka) are related, but isn’t there a difference between אּיּהּ and אּיּכּהּ? I know what you’re thinking. It’s essentially the same word. But couldn’t Hashem find another way to express “where are you?” like with the words אּיּהּ לּךּ. We know by Tisha B’av, for example, that Chazal analyze the word Eicha to relate to our word of אּיּכּהּ. Shouldn’t the word אּיּכּהּ be different (than even the words of Ayeh and Eiphoh)?

  1. That’s a great explanation of the classic question of “but doesnt hashem know already where he is?” really like it. I will have to quote this next time the topic comes up.

    Also, very cool that Hebrew distinguishes between 2 types of “where” for presence and absence. I don’t know of any other languages that do that. (could just be my ignorance, but i’d be curious to know if this is unique.)

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