By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
We continue with the questions from our student in New Jersey, as they are important for us all:
“In regards to what you wrote about the proof of ‘direct revelation’ this can be split into two parts: a) Why would Moses tell the Jewish people something they would not believe? b) Why did the Jewish people believe him?
To answer the first question, I will tell you he put it in because it was so unbelievable! Moses was an intelligent man and realized his religion needed proof so he added in this proof!
In answer to why did they believe him, I will spin this around back at you; two to five million people claim to have seen God, yet no one flinches!
I recently took a course in global history and there was no mention that at that period all the peoples of the world realized all they believed in was wrong. Obviously, the world (for some unknown reason) did not believe the Jews. Why should I believe the Jews more than they did?
Finally you wrote ‘In fact, the Christians and Muslims totally believe that God spoke to the Jews at Sinai, etc.’ If so, how do I know they are wrong?”
I don’t follow your reasoning that an intelligent man of the caliber of Moses would make up something unreasonable in order to be believed.
My point was that one cannot get away with telling an entire people something extraordinary which they had just experienced, and it didn’t, and get away with it without someone out there raising his or her hand and saying, “Hey, that didn’t happen to me!”
The scroll he presented them clearly said that they, the recipients of that scroll, had themselves witnessed the miracles of the plagues, splitting the sea, subsisted on the manna (even as they read the scroll that was their food) and directly heard God speak to them at Sinai from a blazing fire which reached the heavens.
It said that they, the recipients themselves, for 40 years were guided in their travels at night by a pillar of fire which lit up the way and clouds of glory which not only guided their travels, but shielded them from the desert heat.
That scroll relates a 40-year history of miraculous existence for an entire nation; all that is being told to the very ones who are claimed to have experienced those 40 years.
As to the nations, remember God spoke to us and not to them; we did not go around proselytizing them afterward either. The Talmud, however, already addressed this question. It relates that when the powerful voice of God was heard at Sinai, it reverberated around the world and all the world leaders approached Balaam, who was the spiritual leader of the nations of the world, asking him what was happening.
He answered them that God was giving a law to the Jews and that it didn’t concern them. By “blowing it off” in this way he missed the opportunity for the entire world to be inspired and make changes; to take heed to the Torah to observe those laws which apply to them.
That is why Sinai, to the secular historians, would not be much more than a footnote in history, if even that; it only matters to a small, insignificant nation and wouldn’t make it to their history books as it didn’t affect, in their estimation, world history.
The Christians and Muslims who believe God indeed spoke to the Jews at Sinai and accept all the miracles of the desert, claim that their leader(s) subsequently received revelations from God that the laws given to the Jews were now null and void and the Jews were no longer the representatives of God in the world; now they were (of course).
In order to believe them, you again need to believe the one person that received that revelation, unlike that which we received collectively as a nation.
You also need to accept that God “changed His mind” because in the Torah we received as a nation it clearly says these laws will never change. (This is a core foundation of our belief, as outlined by Maimonides’ 13 principles.)
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.