I must confess; when I sat down to write this introduction, I found myself overwhelmed by a sense of chasing phantoms through a foggy maze. Upon my capture of a thought, it either evaporated before I could grasp hold, or else fractured into a thousand other thoughts. There appeared to be so many concepts compressed into the topic of worship, and, to complicate the matter, so many manifestations of each concept with rapidly multiplying interconnections throughout; how was I to isolate any one strand? And yet, one aspect did assert itself most insistently through themorass: Man’s attempt to communicate with Godthrough various media.
Oddly, what seemed so compelling to me about the communication aspect of worship was its very elusiveness. The idea of establishing a relationship with God is a bold, almost brazen one; what can we, limited beings, offer God, the One Who created us? From another angle, it seems an almost absurd proposition in its essence: How can a physical being communicate with the Divine? The vast chasm between Man and God ought to doom any attempt to bridge that gap to tragic failure.
And yet, Man has reached out to God since the beginning of history.[i] How are we to understand such a phenomenon? I am not interested in presenting a complicated metaphysical calculus as to how exactly the human and the Divine can meet. To my mind, the existence of such calculations highlights a far more important point: Worship is a philosophical riddle. As a way of beginning to grasp hold of this riddle, permit me to make an observation: The urge to communicate is a fundamentally human endeavor. We as people relate to others – including the Ultimate Other – instinctively. Just as an exposition on philosophy of language and epistemology is unnecessary to learn before one begins to talk, so too is an exposition of the philosophical machinery of worship unnecessary before one begins the endeavor.
This human instinct may be the most certain thing we can say about worship, relegating all other statements to the realm of the speculative. Does that doom our attempts at solving the riddle to the realms of either futility or irrelevance? I think not. If we take a moment to consider the broader picture, perhaps the mere process of reflection carries meaning. Even if one never arrives at an answer, maybe the act of contemplation alone can add depth and significance to the worship experience. In this issue of Kol Hamevaser, we explore the theme of worship – how it is done, where it is done, and why it is done. Think, read, and, most importantly, continue the conversation!
[i] See the story of Kayin and Hevel, Bereshit 4:3-5.This story presents the first instance of Man reaching out to God proactively, and not merely communicating with Him reactively.