One of the joys and highlights of my week is that every Friday, I read a story to the pre-schoolers as part of their Shabbat service. They are lovely kids! One Friday, about a month ago, my story was called ‘God is everywhere’. God is in the sun and God is in the moon. God is in me, and God is in you. God is everywhere… About the journey of a little girl to find ‘where is God?’ And at the end she realizes that God is absolutely everywhere.
After the service, Ed Schmidt, who happened to be there, came up to me and said, “There’s your sermon. That’s all you need.”
It is true that it is a lesson that we –as adults – all too often forget. When we think of God, we think of Him or Her in some far off distant heaven. That we need to cross a giant abyss in order to reach Him. Overcome great barriers and obstacles that lie in our way.
We so easily forget that God is near, God is everywhere.
That it’s all a matter of our state of mind. All we have to do is understand that simple reality, then God can be right there beside us at all times. His or Hers or Its joyous presence radiating from everyone and everything.
God is in you. God is in me. God is everywhere.
This is also the reality of Torah and especially of the book of Genesis. For weeks we have been reading some of the most gripping but also disturbing stories.
Abraham pretending that his wife is his sister and landing them both in a danger.
Abraham casting away his firstborn Yishmael.
Isaac favoring one son over the other, Esau over Jacob.
Jacob, deceiving his brother and father, to steal the inheritance.
And then, favoring one of his wives over another, and one of his sons over his eleven others.
Joseph’s brothers selling him as a slave.
But the message of the Torah is that God is there too. Just as these stories are unfolding in the book of Genesis so too is the revelation of God, so too is God’s relationship with our fathers and mothers.
These two themes, the family strife of our patriarchs and matriarchs and the unfolding revelation of God, are at the center of the stories of the book of Genesis.
Our forefathers and foremothers are imperfect. They suffer from some of the worst ails. But despite their behavior, God speaks with them, God talks to them.
We don’t have to be perfect. This is what makes them precious to us and true role models to us.
God is everywhere. We don’t have to seek Him out in a cave or in a far-away place.
Through the circumstances of our own life, we can find God.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t go through struggle and travail, or face our limitations. All of our forefathers and mothers had to work through their faults.
Abraham, who casts away his first born Yishmael, is then commanded to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.
Isaac, who favored one son over the other, is deceived and fooled by Jacob, his unloved son.
Jacob who deceived his father so cunningly with the help of his mother, is then himself tricked by his uncle Laban to marry the wrong woman.
Joseph’s brothers sell him to slavery and stage his death to their father, but when there is a famine in their land, they have to travel down to Egypt to beg for food and lo and behold, the Egyptian official ministering the supplies is their long lost brother.
But through all of these stories, God is ever present and offers an opportunity for transformation.
Even by the fact that their own wrongdoings create consequences that so strongly resemble what they did in the first place shows how close God is.
The stories of their lives can seem outlandish to us, looking at them thousands of years later. But their stories are really quite ordinary. They suffer through all of the troubles that ordinary people go through.
If we translate the details to our time, they sound very familiar, very ordinary. This is what makes them precious to us. What makes the stories of the forefathers and foremothers so wonderful. They are in fact ordinary normal people. They show us that God is in the ordinary.
It’s what makes them role models.
It is remarkable that God can enter their lives despite their many imperfections and faults.
The Torah isn’t saying you have to be a monk in a monastery to go toward God. Despite all of the jealousy and the acrimony, God is present in every one of their lives.
The only thing that makes them heroes is that they seek out to reveal the God in their own limitations too. They don’t hide them or bury them.
Their limitations unravel throughout their lives and they do their very best to deal with them and work with them.
In one of the seminal teachings of Kabbalah, the 16th century Kabbalist, the Ari, imagines that before the world that we know was created, God made a perfect universe that could not hold, and that shattered into an infinite amount of sparks.
According to the Ari, our goal in life is to raise these netzutzot, sparks of Godliness, of Divine light, that are in all things in the universe. All we need to do is reveal them. Because revealing them will fix the world. The original meaning of tikkun olam.
This is what our forefather and foremothers do. They reveal the sparks of Godliness around them and buried deep in their own selves.
Abraham who forced Yishmael out of the house, walks hand in hand with Isaac in a moment of incredible intimacy to the site of the binding. In the mystical tradition he comes to symbolize, chesed, unadulterated loving kindness.
Jacob who deceives his brother and father and lies about who he is, who is deceived by his uncle Laban, wrestles all night long with the angel. In the end he comes out his true self and is described by the mystics as emet, Truth.
Joseph, who as we said, in his youth, is a vain arrogant teen, narcissistic, confronts his selfishness when he is seduced by his Egyptian master’s wife.) He wrestles with what to do and is about to lie with her when according to the Talmud, the image of his father flashes in front of him, and he conquers his lower nature. In Kabbalah, he comes to symbolize purity.
They saw their task to uncover the sparks and the Godliness in all life because they knew that God was near to them.
And the resounding statement, the final revelation of all the patriarchs and matriarchs comes, in a few Torah portions, when Joseph, now a powerful minister of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers and says: “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold to Egypt. Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you…. It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph’s message to them is that God is in everything. They do not have to worry. They had to, we have to, go through the journeys of life but God was with them, with us, through all of it. It reveals the truth that, at some level, even though everything had and has to be redeemed and revealed and transformed, it was all the way it always supposed to be.
That truth is the most powerful insight of the Book, it’s a truth that touches on the messianic spirit.
That in all of the stories of the Patriarchs and matriarchs, in their incredible difficulties and challenges, God was in all of it. And, that at some level that we can’t always hold on to, it all happened the way it was supposed to.
That God is amidst and in all of this complicated stuff we call life. Behind all this complicated stuff we call life.
God is in you, God is in me, God is in the stars and the moon. God is in the sun and the sky.
God is in all the pulsating activity of life.
The activity – that in itself – is the expression of the divine life force that’s at the core of the universe: the movements of our atoms, the migration of peoples, the turning of planets, and the whirling of galaxies.
In all these, God is manifesting to us – from across the chasm of the Absolute. As a hand reaching out across the abyss of solitude, searching for an “other” to commune with and touch. Encouraging us to lift the sparks scattered across the universe and our own selves.
God is near to us in the silence and solitude – in the vibrating livingness of the Self. Deep inside us there is that ’voice’ that is always speaking. That was speaking to our ordinary ancestors, that is speaking to us.
As the ashrei prayer that we say three times a day exclaims: God is near to all who call to him, to all who call to him in sincerity and truth.
God is in you. God is in me. God is everywhere.