When the Alter Rebbe when he was in jail in Czarist Russia, word got out that there was an unusual, exceptional human being in the jail, and people came to ask for advice and ask for wisdom. One of the Czar’s minister came, who was an avid student of the bible. He asked the Alter Rebbe, “What does it mean when G-d asks Adam, after he ate from the tree of knowledge ‘Where are you?’” The minister wanted to know the Rebbe’s understanding of asking Adam, “Where are you?” as if G-d couldn’t see him and didn’t know where he was. At first the Alter Rebbe told him what Rashi says – that it teaches us good manners, that when you start a conversation you don’t start it abruptly, particularly if it is a critical conversation that you’re going to criticize a person. You don’t start with the criticism. You start with a polite, “How are you? Where are you?” But the minister said, “I know that. I read that. I want to know how you understand it. In other words, what is the deeper meaning?
The Alter Rebbe said to him that after G-d creates a human being and gives him a certain amount of time to fulfill his purpose, then G-d comes and asks “How are you doing?” “How are you progressing in your mission?” He wasn’t asking where are you physically, he was asking “where are you” spiritually. And that’s not a question to inform G-d of where you are, but it’s to make the person think and take stock of his life and of his achievements. In the case of Adam, Adam was about 10 hours old, and G-d wanted to know – “how are you doing? You have had 10 hours, how is it going?” God was asking for a progress report.
But actually, if you think about it, G-d is asking Adam not only to take stock of himself. He is asking Adam to report back: “Tell me how you’re doing.” Which gives us a little insight into a story where a reform Rabbi who was very enamored with the Rebbe interviewed the Rebbe. He heard the Rebbe give this explanation as to what it means, and if G-d asks every person, “Where are you?” This Rabbi asked the Rebbe, “Do you ever ask yourself “Where am I?” And if you do, what is your answer? Obviously, no Hassid would ask this question, but thank G-d somebody did, because the Rebbe’s answer was, “I ask myself that every day, but I can’t answer it because my mission, my job, is to inspire others. So I can’t tell you how I am doing unless I hear from others. If you’re inspired, let me know.”
Even G-d needs to hear from us – are you inspired? Because every teacher needs to get feedback from his students to know whether they are listening, whether they got it, whether it has been effective. Even the Moshe of the generation, like Moshe himself, needed people to give him feedback: “What’s going on? Is my message getting through?” So just another example of where we can see such a personal and great closeness – a personal relationship that G-d has with us where it’s not a one-way street. He gives, but we have to give feedback. G-d is asking “Where are you?” He’s asking that we tell him how we are doing.
The Rebbe often asked that the people should write good news not just painful questions or painful issues. When things are good, the Rebbe needed to hear that.