Reader: Dear Mesora-
I enjoyed reading the article, “Questioning the Bible,” by Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz. I was, however, bothered by on statement towards the end of the essay:
“Based on the questions surrounding this passage, this interpretation is the only one that makes sense.”
To say that there is only one correct interpretation of a Biblical verse, simply because you see certain questions in it, is an unfortunately simplistic way of approaching the infinite wisdom of Tanach. Our commentators have struggled with the words of the Torah, working hard to find the most likely reading of the text - the “pshat” - the original intent of the author. Ramban in his introduction to “Milchamos Hashem” (his defense of the Ri’f against the Baal HaMeor) says that when we deal with the study of Torah there is only “more likely” and “less likely”, not “absolutely certain”. Would the author of this article unconditionally reject the possibility that other commentators can explain this verse differently? I would hope not. They were all struggling to find the most likely reading of the text. The more correct way to phrase an opinion on a Biblical text is “Based on my reading of the text and my knowledge of the textual context, this is what I think the most likely reading is.” I must assume that this statement was only the opinion of this particular author and not of Mesora as a whole.
Mesora: I don't know that Rabbi Moskowitz meant what you understood. But if Rabbi Moskowitz felt this was the only view that appealed to his mind as the accurate explanation, he is justified in expressing his true thoughts. The objective of Torah is to arrive at “absolute truths”. If one does not do so, his mind has not truly apprehended, and his values are not based on what he sees as absolute truth.
One might ask: “The Rabbis too argued vehemently on each other, ‘convinced’ that the other was wrong. Do you feel the Rabbis were justified in feeling that another Rabbi was ‘absolutely’ wrong? If so, where is the difference in assuming one has detected the ‘absolute’ truth?”
There is a clear difference between dispelling a fallacy, and proving and absolute reason for the truth of a phenomenon. When dispelling fallacy, all that is required is one reason. Once a valid, incontrovertible objection exists, the proposed idea must be false. There may exists additional reasons for its fallacy as well. However, when claiming “the” reason for something’s truth, one must exhaust all possibilities, as the person’s claim is to an “exclusive” reason. Exclusive, by its very definition, means there is no other reason. Of course, the latter is far more difficult, but not impossible.
If Rabbi Moskowitz felt he exhausted all other possibilities, then he is justified in saying so. The Rabbis and Sages too opined singular reasons for many aspects of Torah.
Although man’s knowledge cannot approximate the knowledge of God, and we will never know all, God did give us the capability of realizing truth. God desires we arrive at truth. This requires our “convictions”. Revelation at Sinai for example was clearly created to function as a proof to all peoples and generations that God exists. Studying the phenomena unique to that event allows us to arrive at this conclusion. So too is the case when studying any area: upon detecting the phenomena unique to a given topic, we are thereby enabled to arrive at its true meaning and purpose. And if one is fortunate enough to arrive at such convictions, he would be at fault if he ignored what his mind told him was absolutely true.
Many times, our emotion of insecurity or fear of opposition stifles our creativity, thought, and convictions. Intellectual courage is required, if one is to make continued progress in his observations of creation and Torah, arriving at an ever-increasing love for God. One cannot love God, if he does not feel convinced of what he has learned. Love of God means that his love is based in reality. And reality refers to truths, which his mind sees as absolute.