The hardest thing for an author to do, is to help his readers understand complexities in their simplest forms. Martin Buber does exactly that in his short remarkable book ‘The Way of Man’. Buber is said to have been one of the most significant religious thinkers of the twentieth century. In his book he presents the essential teachings of Hasidism: the mystical Jewish movement that swept through Eastern Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
In its essence this book helps us understand ourselves, and it presents us with a way of belonging in a spiritual world. Buber says: ‘there is something that can only be found in one place. It is a great treasure, which may be called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place on which one stands.’
I was most impressed with how Buber immediately swung his reader into a theocentric way of thinking. He takes us to Genesis and primarily to the account of Adam, who is hiding from God. God, the all-knowing, asks Adam: “Where are you?”
God seeks Adam, who has hidden himself. He calls into the garden, asking where he is. It would seem that He does not know it, that it is possible to hide from Him, and consequently, that He is not all-knowing. In actual fact God knows where Adam is, and now He wants Adam to know where He is. In asking this question God does not expect to learn something He does not know; what He wants is to create an effect in man that can only be produced by asking such a question, provided that it reaches a man’s heart.
Adam hides himself to avoid rendering accounts, and escape responsibility for his way of living. Every man hides for this purpose, for every man is Adam and finds himself in Adam’s situation. To escape responsibility for his life, he turns existence into a system of hideouts. And in thus hiding again and again ‘from the face of God’, he enmeshes himself more and more deeply in perversity. Therefore Buber says man cannot escape the eye of God, but in trying to hide from Him, he is hiding from himself.