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Vayeshev 5782 - God is Everywhere, and God is One

November 27, 2021 - 23 Kislev, 5782 

In Jewish preschools across the nation, we often hear this universalistic version of the Sh’ma - God is everywhere, and God is one… It is both easy to comprehend and complex, if we think about how that statement affects our daily decisions. God is everywhere - we are able to access God through prayer and study in every place, in every situation. If we look close enough, we can find God’s hand in everything we see and hear, from the shadow of a tree on a fence to an aria by our favorite soprano. God is one - God’s basic instruction does not change, even if our interpretations might change over time. At all times, God’s mitzvot are accessible as a stable, guiding framework with which to make our every-day decisions.

In Parashat Vayeshev, we are introduced to Joseph, a very human character who brings God into everything he does. When he interprets dreams, he ascribes that interpretation to God. When he rejects sexual advances from his master’s wife, he mentions God as his reason. The first time we hear of God’s presence in Joseph’s life, we learn:

And Adonai was with Joseph, and he was a fortunate man while he was in the house of his Egyptian master. And his master saw that Adonai was with him, and with everything he did, Adonai made him fortunate (Genesis 39:2-3).

When Potiphar, Joseph’s master, sees that God is with him, he puts Joseph in charge of everything he owns. Later, prison guards and the Pharaoh himself will put Joseph in charge of all of their duties as well, after they see that God is behind all of Joseph’s efforts. When Joseph embraces God’s Presence in his every-day speech and decisions, that Presence helps Joseph to make the most of every opportunity and to build trust with everyone he encounters.

When we, too, bring God to the forefront of our decisions, we have the opportunity to embrace that מצליח, that potential for success that God offers at every moment, in every location. When we remember God’s omnipresence, we avoid making the mistakes we might otherwise make when we think we are alone and no one is watching. We remember that we are accountable for even those deeds that no other human witnesses. As we always have that witness in God, we know that the choices we make about what we consume or how we spend our time have real consequences for ourselves and others.

When it seems that infinite decisions with infinite possibilities are battling for space within our minds, putting God first allows us to weed through the possibilities and focus on those that align with our Jewish ideals. With each decision, for instance, we ask which options support the mitzvah stated in more variations than any other mitzvah in the Torah, to love the other as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:13). At work and in relationships, we search for the most compassionate option, and we strive for the treatment we would want for ourselves. 

Similarly, when we employ others, choose where to shop, or hire someone to clean or remodel our home, we remind ourselves of the mitzvot of both paying workers on time and refusing to abuse the worker in need (Lev. 19:13, Deut. 24:14-15). When we choose where and when to travel or live, we consider our ability to keep Shabbat, keep kosher, and celebrate in Jewish community in each location. And when we choose what words should come out of our mouth when we are angry or upset, we remember the Toraitic importance of rebuke without embarrassment (Lev. 19:17). Infinite other Jewish values can define how we make decisions - kibbud av v’eim - honoring our parents, pikuah nefesh - saving a life, t’shuvah - embracing forgiveness, and so many more. These values can be brought into any decision, small or large. If we consistently incorporate the values we hold most dear, those values that come from that omnipresent God, into our thought processes, we can achieve greater clarity and structure in decision-making, and we can find comfort in the knowledge that our intentions form the foundation for our actions.

The more we rely on what we know God desires from us, the more we also have the opportunity to build trust in relationships. When God’s Omnipresence guides our lives, others notice, too. When we live our lives by a certain framework, our actions have the potential to become more consistent, and others see us as more reliable and trustworthy. In Joseph’s Biblical saga, Potiphar, the prison guards, and Pharaoh all know that Joseph consults God before he acts and speaks; they all know the object of Joseph’s intentions and are ready to trust him with all that they have. So, too, we can build trust through establishing that consistent guide of Torah forefront in our decisions.

At the end of the day, even when we plan with God and mitzvot forefront in our minds, not everything for which we hope will come to fruition. So too, even with all of his success, Joseph does not experience endless fortune; as we will read in a few moments, he is framed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison. In prison, Joseph is forgotten by Pharaoh’s cupbearer, even after Joseph helps to interpret the cupbearer’s dream. God’s omnipresence does not equate to omnipresent good luck or positive outcomes, whether in Joseph’s lives or ours. And yet, that awareness of God’s omnipresence can provide us with omnipresent possibilities for comfort, when our dreams do not pan out. With God, we have a Source to whom we can voice both our frustrations and the gratitude we hold for what and whom we have in our lives. With God, we have Jewish community to be there for us in our times of need. And with God, we have texts and concrete ritual objects to which we can return when we do not know the words to say or actions to take.

God is everywhere and God is one. God’s Presence is flexible enough to accompany us wherever we go, and yet, God’s Presence is stable enough to guide us through every experience. As we proclaim in Ashrei, Psalm 145, twice this morning: God is close to all who call God, to all who call God faithfully (145:18).

What a blessing that we have this ever-present access to God and God’s tradition! Our challenge is to work up the commitment, the courage to call out to God, not just when we think we need, but time and time again, with every word and decision. Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782