Proving Sinai: Circular Reasoning?
Reader: I was intrigued by Rabbi Chait's article proving the validity of the Torah based on mass revelation. In trying to understand the proof of Rabbi Chait, I was confused on a few points. Firstly, how do we know that 600,000 people saw the event? The logic for that fact seems circular- we trust the document as a historical fact because so many people witnessed an event in it, yet the very proof in how we know so many people saw the event, is from the document itself! Is it possible that Moses claimed 600,000 people saw an event and exaggerated the number? (Not that the claim is completely false). Secondly, I am troubled by the fact that the revelation is in no way a "clear" representation of God. At best it resembles a volcano, or some sort of primitive speaker system. Is it possible that Moses was able to induce a volcano, or use echo to put on an impressive display that the people believed was God? Thirdly, (and most basically) if this is such an undeniable fact, why does most of the world not accept the revelation as fact? Thanks for your time, ES
Rabbi: Let us define “circular reasoning”: a person claims his diploma as authentic and offers his diploma as proof. Here, the “proof” is equal to the object he attempts to prove. This is circular reasoning. To validate his diploma, external support is required, such as records at the institution of his claimed attendance, or similar external proof. Validation must be external to that which one desires to validate. For example, if one tells airport security to accept his word that he is who he says he is, that would be circular as well. A passport proves an identity. The passport is external to the person, and is a valid proof.
What about history? How can we prove it? If one wishes to use a book as proof, it would appear this too is circular reasoning. However, there is one major difference: the verification of any historical account is the oral transmission, not the book. Provided the account is universally identical, accepted by masses, and describes intelligible phenomena, the story must be true. There is no possible means by which a universally identical history would be orally transmitted and arrive in our hands today, had these factors not been present at the time of that event at hand. For example, one could not successfully convince others of explosions on the George Washington Bridge at rush hour, unless they actually occurred. Too many witnesses would deny a fabrication, and no one but the perpetrator would promote the fallacy. The story would never succeed, and certainly, not be recorded in history.
History derives its validation from unanimous oral transmission. This is why Revelation at Sinai is not circular reasoning: its universal acceptance of a single history is its proof. It is not accepted based on a textbook. We thereby know that those Jews all descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they were enslaved for 210 years in Egypt wherein they witness 10 amazing plagues, we know God split the Reed Sea when pursued by the Egyptian army, we know that 600,000 (men above 20 – approx. 2 million total) attended Sinai 3335 years ago and they witnessed intelligence emanating from a fiery mountain, we are told of all the lineage, we are told of their travels both before, and afterwards. This unanimous single history combined with the absence of any other Jewish history tells us this event took place, with no doubt.
Your second question is how do we know that it was God who was responsible for the event. The story records that the people heard the “sound of words” emanating from the fire. Well, what causes intelligent sounds, i.e., words? We know that on Earth, man alone speaks. But man cannot coexist in fire, let alone, speak intelligent words. Therefore, what caused these words cannot be a biological organism, as such a creature would perish, and certainly, the creature would be seen. But the story also records that “…no form did you see, only a voice.” This too forms part of the unanimous transmission.
I will quote a few sources to show how clearly the people understood this: In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls that event: (4:12) "And God spoke to you from inside the fire, a voice of words did you hear, and no form did you see, only a voice", (4:16) "And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire", (4:33) "Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as you have?" (4:36) "From the heavens He made heard His voice to train you, and on Earth He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard from inside the fire", (5:4) "Face to face, God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire", (5:19) "These matters God spoke to your entire assembly on the mountain from inside the fire...", (5:21) "...and you said 'and His voice we heard from inside the fire'...", (5:23) "For who of all flesh has heard the voice of the living God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as us?", (9:10) "And God gave to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and upon them, as all the words that God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire on the day of the assembly."
The One who created the laws governing fire, i.e., the Creator, must be responsible for this event, and he alone possesses the ability to talk unaffected from amidst flames.
Your final question was why, if so evidently true, does most of the world not accept this event. But isn’t the reverse in fact what we see? Even other religions have held onto our Torah containing this event, unedited. Although they sin by adding onto God’s words, they are bound by historical proof, and do not alter this account, or others. Their promulgation of our Torah evidences the undeniable nature of the events contained in the Torah.
Sinai, and all events in the Torah have successfully been transmitted, as they actually happened. This reality should be so amazing to our minds. We should be excited to discover what ideas the Creator of the universe desires to impart to us in the rest of His Torah.