Letters Aug. 2011: Part III
Sinai: A History Distorted over Time?
Omphile: A colleague said even if he was at Sinai, he wouldn’t be convinced. So I should have dropped the conversation. But how would you respond to his words below?
“The truth is the events on Mt Sinai could have been a small fire with a few people gathered around. A ventriloquist claimed that it was God speaking. Over the years when the story was retold, the the fire got bigger; as did the crowd. The voice moved from the belly of a man, to a huge roaring fire. And seven hundred years later when the official version of the Torah was completed we have a completely different story from what actually happened. I don’t think this is that far fetched.”
Rabbi: As he would not trust his senses had he been at Sinai, you are correct that any discussion is futile. For he will also doubt you are speaking.
But his argument that “history is distorted over time” contains an internal contradiction. For with this argument, one must be consistent and suggest this applies in all cases. Yet, mankind does not accept that all world history has undergone distortions.
Furthermore, according to this theory, we must find numerous versions of every historical event. For why should people in the West distort a history that ends up perfectly matching a distortion made by Easterners? Yet, this is what we find: singular historical accounts for all peoples, refuting his theory.
Sinai is no different. Had distortion been at play, today numerous versions of Jewish history would exist for that moment in time. But this is not so. A singular history of an event testifies to its accurate account.
Resurrection: Hard to Believe
Anna: Do you believe in resurrection of the dead? How can you explain this reasonably?
Rabbi: We witness life. Yet, at one point it did not exist. For nothing physical exists without a beginning. Thus, life must have come from nothingness, or lifeless matter. This must be. Therefore, not only is resurrection possible, and to quote Talmud Sanhedrin, it is more likely for life to come from matter that once possessed life (bones) than from that which never had life (semen).
God Appears Brutal
David: I’m troubled about the parts of the Bible where the Lord seems horribly cruel. A lot of Exodus chapters 21 and 22, Leviticus 20 through 26, and Deuteronomy 20 through 22 detail the Lord telling the Jews to kill people for offenses that seem pretty minor, while He tolerates disgusting practices such as slavery. And the Lord seems downright bloodthirsty in Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 7. I know that the Bible has many other passages where the Lord is merciful and encourages his people to be hospitable and kind, but how can I (or anyone) worship a God who’d also be so savage and brutal?
Rabbi: You misunderstand God’s justice. Deuteronomy 13:19 teaches that only through following God, can we perform what is right “in His eyes.” This means there is a sense of justice that is not befitting our actions. This verse also teaches the vital importance in recognizing that God alone defines what is just and unjust. God alone created all life. Therefore, He alone reserves the sole say of when it may endure, and when it must be cut off. If you disagree in some cases, then you do not possess an accurate understanding of His terms.
There are numerous cases of God’s justice; each one illustrates new concepts, thereby explaining why each case is cited in the Torah. There is no redundancy.
Punishment varies depending on the crime. This is reasonable. At times, women and children are spared as they were not corrupt, or corrupted. But as seen in the Flood, all people were killed as society could no longer breed a culture worthy of existence: “And God saw that many were man’s evils on Earth; and all the inclinations of his heart were only evil, all day (Gen. 6:5).” This does not mean infants too were corrupt, but rather that they had no chance to escape corrupt lives as they matured. God’s mercy demanded that in order to give mankind a second chance, this generation must be obliterated. You exist due to this kindness.
This same reasoning explains why in your cited cases the following people are killed: an idolatrous city, witches, murderers, false prophets, misleading idolatrous individuals and cities, Sodom, the Midianites, the Egyptians, the Seven Nations and others. All these people lost their worth, and would harm others had they been left alive.
There are those evils you deem “pretty minor”. Perhaps you allude to witches and those performing bestiality. Yet, witches must be killed as the Talmud states (Chullin 7b), they remove honor from God, since they make it appear that other forces rival God’s uniqueness. Now, as God created man for the sole purpose to know Him and appreciate His unique role in the universe for our own benefit, those who remove this opportunity perform the most tragic of crimes, causing others to forfeit their purpose. And those whose sexual drives become so deviant that they perform bestiality must also be killed. Their own lives are most distant from an intelligent life, and they mislead others.
Those who curse or hit parents are also killed. This is because they display an inability to respect an authority figure. Without accepting authority, one has no opportunity to transpose that subjugated role onto a relationship with God.
I hope this clarifies the severity of these crimes to some degree, and that you appreciate that it is God who determines justice, not man.