BELIEF AND WORSHIP
Have you ever pondered the difference between belief and worship? They are not the same. Belief is about granting an individual or a concept of legitimacy. Belief is cerebral. Worship is how you feel about an individual or a concept. Worship is visceral. Worship often requires a willingness to devote time and energy. An anecdote that has been around for some time, tells of two Jews discussing and perhaps even debating the existence of G-d. With sunset soon upon them, one turns to the other and says: “Let’s table our discussion. It’s getting late and it’s time for us to go the shul to daven Mincha.”
Belief is personal. Everyone is entitled to his/her belief in G-d or lack thereof. G-d help anyone to question, doubt, or second guess and especially ridicule the belief of another person. Unless one is a hermit, worship tends to be communal. There are many Christians and Jews who profess to believe in G-d. Yet not everyone who professes to believe chooses to worship. Alternately, there are those who worship religiously, yet by their own admission fall woefully short when it comes to belief. There are those who attend synagogue service who do so lest they be the broken link in the chain of tradition. There are those who attend synagogue services solely to support the synagogue. There are those who attend synagogue services for social purposes. There are those who attend synagogue service because it provides them a break from the boredom of their everyday life. As a rabbi, I speak from experience; as a Jew, I find it difficult to believe that the same does not apply to Christians and church attendance.
Belief is invisible. Worship is for all to see. Worship extends far beyond a synagogue or church, a mosque, or a shrine. Outside of religion, the most common worship is hero worship. We find this particularly in politics, we find this, particularly in entertainment. With the advent of television, political aspirants have been voted into office because of popularity, rather than philosophy. Entertainers have become the rage, because of their appeal to the public, more than their skill at acting or singing. Thanks to hero-worship, hairdos are copied as are head coverings (a la Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats). The public is quick to mimic speech patterns of its heroes along with that hero’s gestures and sayings. Belief plays no role in the popularity of the hero, however lasting or ephemeral. Those of my generation may have worshipped four long-haired lads from Britain, but few, if any believed in them. The only ones who believed in them were their promoters. And such belief was totally commensurate with their popularity. Should it happen that their popularity began to wane, or that another music group was nipping at their heels to displace them, then belief on the part of their promoters would be redirected to the new group soon gaining that same worship of the youth of this culture.
Fifty-three years ago this week, belief and worship melded into one. Towards the beginning of June 1967, Israel was engaged in a war that would bring about tremendous change to its place among nations, as well as the way it saw itself. Despite all military analysis – for me as well as for others – the Six Day War was nothing short of a Divine miracle. As such, it strengthened my belief in HaShem. For the Israeli army, the swift and decisive victory over an enemy that vastly outnumbered them in numbers and equipment strengthened its belief in itself. And with good reason. The army of a country that was in existence for less than two decades, proved its mettle. Yet, its belief in itself, as necessary and as healthy as it was, soon turned to self-worship, exacerbated by the adulation of Jewish communities around the world, along with the respect of governments of countries around the world. And it was self-worship and not belief in itself, that would end up costing the Israeli army dearly. Belief in itself, assured the Israeli army, that it could beat back the armies of its enemies. Worship of itself led the Israeli army to become smug and regard itself as invincible. It was only after a rude awakening and a heavy cost that the Israeli Army was brought back to reality.
Let belief and worship never be confused as being the same. Let us realize that one is cerebral while the other is visceral. Let us recognize that one is personal while the other tends to be communal. With regard to the Israeli army, in light of events that took place fifty-three years ago, let us learn that belief in oneself is both healthy and necessary. Self-worship however can prove to be quite dangerous.