If you ask someone coming out of church on a Sunday, “Do you believe in G-d?” the worshipper will be shocked.
“What type of question is that? Of course I do!”
If you then ask him, “Do you consider yourself religious?” what will the answer be?
“Certainly. That’s why I’m here!”
If you go to a mosque on Friday and you ask the average person there, “Do you believe in G-d?” what will the answer be?
“Do you consider yourself religious?”
This is normal. These conversations make sense.
Now go to a synagogue on Yom Kippur. Ask the Jew sitting in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, fasting, “Do you believe in G-d?”
You cannot get a straight answer.
“Umm, it depends on what you mean by ‘G-d'” That’s if they’re the philosophical type. Otherwise they’ll simply say, “What am I? A rabbi? I don’t know.”
So then ask them, “Do you consider yourself religious?”
Have you ever asked an American Jew if they’re religious? They crack up laughing. And they assure you that they’re the furthest things from religious.
“Are you kidding? Do you know what I eat for breakfast?”
Then every one of them will say, “I had a grandfather, on my mother’s side, oh, who was a religious man. But me…?”
So you ask what appears to be a logical question. “Then why are you here?”
For some reason, this average Jew, who doesn’t believe in G-d and is very not religious, will look at you like you’re crazy and say, “What do you mean? It’s Yom Kippur!”
This is not normal.
Let’s analyze this for a moment. What is this Jew actually saying?
You asked him if he believes in G-d and he said “No.” Or “When I was younger I used to.” Or “When I get older I’ll start to.”
“So you don’t believe in G-d?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Are you religious?”
“Furthest thing from it.”
“So why are you here?”
“Because it’s Yom Kippur!”
What he’s saying is this: “Why am I here? Because G-d wants a Jew to be in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. So where else should I be?”
So you say: “But you don’t believe in G-d.”
He says, “So what?” and he doesn’t understand your problem.
He is saying: “Today is Yom Kippur even if I don’t have a calendar. This is a synagogue even if I don’t like it. I am a Jew even if I’m not religious, and G-d is G-d even when I don’t believe in Him. So what’s your problem?”
Now that can be dismissed, and unfortunately many of us do dismiss it, as sheer hypocrisy. We say, “You don’t believe in G-d and you’re not religious–don’t come to the synagogue. Don’t come here just to show how Jewish you are.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe z”tl, had a different approach. This insanity is what makes us Jewish. This is what shows how special we are in our relationship with G-d.
That’s called truth. It’s not about me. I don’t want to be religious. I don’t want to believe in G-d, I don’t want to hear about this. But He wants me here, so here I am.
The same thing happens on Passover. Every Jew sits at a Seder. Ask the average Jew at a Seder, do you believe in G-d? Leave me alone. Are you religious? He chokes on the matza laughing. So you’re celebrating the Exodus from Egypt 3300 years ago? History is not my subject. Then why are you here? Where should I be? It’s Passover! That’s what’s so magnificent about the Jew.
Now let’s put it all in context. Three thousand, three hundred and fifteen years ago G-d asked us if we would marry Him. We had an extraordinary wedding ceremony, with great special effects–we were wowed. After the wedding He said, “I have a few things I’d like you to take care of for Me so, please… I’ll be right back.” He hasn’t been heard from since. For more than three thousand, three hundred years. He has sent messengers, messages, postcards–you know, writing on the walls… but we haven’t heard a word from Him in all this time.
Imagine, a couple gets married, and the man says to his new wife, “Would you make me something to eat, please? I’ll be right back.” She begins preparing. The guy comes back 3300 years later, walks into the house, up to the table, straight to his favorite chair, sits down and tastes the soup that is on the table. The soup is cold.