Testimony to Truth


Rabbi Dr. Michael Bernstein


The Tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved were placed in the aron kodesh, the holy ark (25:16). “And you shall put testimonies I give you into the ark.” In what way are the Ten Commandments considered testimonies?

As understood by many of the great medieval rabbis, the revelation at Sinai, as it was before an entire nation of some three million people, serves as proof of the Torah’s veracity. The following quick and necessarily superficial exposition of this proof is based on the Kuzari and further elaborated by Rabbi Israel Chait.

All knowledge falls into two categories, firsthand information, which is observed or deduced directly, and secondhand information, which is received from others in oral, written or any other form. Although firsthand information is the most credible, our lives depend to a great degree on secondhand information that we cannot verify from our own experience. For example, if we go to a doctor, how do we know he attended medical school? And how do we know that what he was taught there is accurate? If we board an aircraft, how do we know the pilot is qualified to fly it? We must rely on secondhand knowledge at every turn, but how do we know it is reliable? How can we believe anything we read in a history book, a textbook or a newspaper? The answer is that we can know by logical deduction. Something is either true or false. If we can determine that it cannot be false, we know it is true.

Secondhand information may be false for only one of two reasons. Either there has been a deliberate lie, or there has been a mistake. If we know that neither of these two factors could be present, we can correctly deduce that the information is true. The events at Sinai were unmistakably miraculous; there was no possibility of error. Furthermore, it occurred before millions of people; it would have been impossible to get them all to share a lie. Since it was impossible to create the record of such an event through error or deceit, the Torah must be true. Was it possible that the Torah was introduced at a later time? It could not happen; the people would never have accepted as true a document containing onerous obligations and describing a critically important event in their own history of which no one had ever heard or spoken.

Let us now focus on the Ten Commandments? Why were they even necessary? The Halachah makes no differentiation among any of the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah. In fact, the Rambam contends that the congregation should not stand up for the reading of the Ten Commandments to avoid any implication of preference.

Rav Hai Gaon and the Maharal, among others, addressed this question by giving a universal significance to the Ten Commandments. According to Rav Hai Gaon, they encapsulate the general principles of all the Torah; any of the other six hundred and three commandments can be traced to a concept they represent. According to the Maharal, the Ten Commandments represent successive layers or levels of infractions, the first five against God; the last five against people.

According to both opinions, we can understand how the Ten Commandments are a testimony to the entire Torah. The revelation at Sinai served as proof of the Torah’s veracity for all generations. Since every new commandment Moses would introduce related in some way to the Ten Commandments that everyone had already heard, they would be accepted as the truth.


The “proof of Sinai” supports the conviction that the Torah is true through rational proofs or at least persuasive evidence. Judaism does not demand that we accept the truth of the Torah on faith alone. It would seem that any true religion of God would have to include some rational proof of its veracity. Otherwise, how could a just God hold anyone responsible for that which they cannot know?

It follows that a seeker of truth can determine that the only logical place to investigate is Judaism. Presuming someone has concluded there is a God for whatever reason¾cosmological, teleological, ontological, the big bang or several others¾he will limit his investigation to those religions professing the existence of the one God and claim to be demonstrably true. Christianity and Islam, the other two major religions of monotheism, do not claim they can prove Jesus or Mohammed received an instruction from God. When it comes right down to it, they claim it must be accepted on faith. Since these religions do not make claim to be demonstrably true, they must be false. They are in contradiction. They maintain that a just God holds people responsible to believe that, which cannot be known. This last logical wrinkle does not prove the truth of Judaism, but it establishes it as the only place for an earnest monotheist to seek the true way to worship God.