Letters Aug. 2015

Moshe Ben-Chaim

“From Amidst the Flames” — Are 8 repetitions needed?

Reader: Where, in the Torah, is it recorded that three million Jews were present at Mount Sinai and heard the voice of God?

Rabbi: Numbers (Bamidbar) records the population of males over 20 years of age to be 600,000. Include males below 20 and all females and you arrive at approximately 2-3 million people. This was recorded shortly after the event of God's revelation at Sinai, so this population was present at Sinai. Sources for the Jews hearing God’s voice are: “Guard yourselves and guard your souls exceedingly, lest you forget the things your eyes saw (Deut. 4:9)”,  “Has any nation heard the voice of God speaking from amidst fire like you have heard, and lived (Deut. 4:33)?”,  “You have been demonstrated to know that God is Elokim, there is no other besides Him (Deut. 4:35)”, “From the heavens He made heard His voice to prove you, and on land He showed you His great fire and His words you heard from amidst the fire (Deut. 4:36).”

In this weeks Parsha, VauEschanan, I counted at least 8 times Moses reminds the people that they heard God’s voice “from amidst the fire.” What is this vital message demanding such repetition?

You know, Moses is referring to God’s giving of the Ten Commandments and His Torah upon Mount Sinai, where the nation of 2-3 million heard a voice from amidst the blazing mountain. God orchestrated this event as an eternal proof of His existence, His only religion, and His selected people. The proof is derived from the impossibility of any intelligence to exist in fire. In all other elements, we find life. But nothing can survive in flames. As the nation heard intelligence from “amidst the flames”, it was proved to them that an Intelligent being exists, other than a biological organism that would certainly perish in an inferno. This intelligent being that is not of the physical world, communicated laws to a nation of 2-3 million Jews. Moses reminds the Jewish nation 8 times that they all witnessed this. Had they not witnessed it, they would not follow Moses, and we would not have this communication as the sole Jewish account of that time in history. Had Moses lied, those people would not abandon their true history in place of such an amazing story. But as we possess only one Jewish history, and unanimously, all Jews agree this is our sole history, we know Revelation on Sinai to be 100% truth. The Jews did not rebel when Moses reminded them that they witnessed Revelation. 

Such a story cannot be fabricated and reach us 3300 years later as unanimously accepted history. For if today, someone gathers a nation and tells them “Don’t forget the voice that you heard emanating from flames on this mountain”, they would view the person as delusional, requiring psychological help. They would not abandon their collective history, and as a nation, embrace the delusional person’s views. And while other religions are “believed” to contain miracles or to be of divine origin, not one other religion claims masses witnessed miracles, and certainly not God talking. Christianity and Islam knew they could not get adherents, had they made up such lies. So they concoct claims, of course without any masses, since their claims are lies. They used the sword to persuade people to accept their dogma. In contrast, Judaism asks people to use their intellects to determine which religion is the proven word of God. 

Without witnesses, one is foolish to accept as true, any claim on any topic. It matters none that other religions have millions or billions more followers than Judaism. Egypt too had numerous followers of their beliefs in sun gods, moon gods, stone gods and iron gods. Do you feel a stone created the universe, that cats or beetles have protective powers, or that a cast metal figurine of a falcon suddenly gains powers once that metal ore was formed into a bird form? 

People are insecure. They fabricate religions to soothe their imaginations of a safe and bright future. But the intelligent person searches for proofs for all he believes, starting with his religion and his view of the universe. How did the universe get here? What created it? What created me? What does this Creator want for me? What will truly make me happy…will ignoring truth help, or hurt me? 

He readily concludes that the world operates with fixed laws, and only by watering my field and feeding my animals, will I eat. Minerals and vegetation possess properties that are well-suited for some purposes, but fail at other objectives. Wood and metal nails are well-suited for shelters, but poor choices for garments and food. As the intelligent man explores, he arrives at not only practical truths, but moral and intelligent truths that he finds pleasing to ponder, share and probe further. 

The bottom line is that “truth” guides the intelligent man, and it is only in the search for truth that one complies with reality.

Moses repeated the truth of God’s revelation 8 times. He wished that his fellow Jews enjoy a life of truth, which is the life of Torah. If we are wise like Moses, we too will adhere to Torah, for our own good. 

Who Can Teach & Learn Torah?

Reader: It is mentioned on this site that only Jews (not limited to Levites) teach the Torah. However, in Deut. 17:9 it is talking about the Levites instructing, so how does that relate to “any” Jew teaching the Torah? Shouldn't it only be a Levites? I am trying to determine whether to continue to be a Christian because there is evidence that is making me doubt it. Now I’m not sure how to look for the truth when I don’t know if a website is written by a Levite or even if I can find one in my town. Also, can a non-Jew study Torah? Thank you for your response.

Rabbi: Good question. The enforcement of only Jews teaching Torah is a means to secure meticulous Torah transmission. For if gentiles who are not obliged to observe except for 7 commands, would be teachers of all other 606 commands, we cannot be sure they have fully studied what is inapplicable to them. This lack of study would corrupt the Torah educational process, and Torah.

The Torah’s words relating to Levites being teachers is referring to the tribe, which did not own land or work. The Levites’ role is to teach. God designed the Jewish nation in a manner where there is a group, the Levites, who secure the transmission of Torah. However, their role does not exclude from teaching, people from other tribes. Throughout time, our greatest teachers were not Levites. Consider King David and Solomon, the Prophets, and countless Talmudic sages. So I would read “You will come to the priests, the Levites and to the judge…” to mean that these were the “institutional” teachers in Jewish society. But this does not preclude other Jews from teaching. In fact, this very verse includes a “judge” who did not have to be a Levite.

A non-Jew may study Torah relating to their Noachide laws, in which one can spend his or her lifetime learning. And as a non-Jew may take on almost all other laws, they are permitted of course to study those additional laws too, equal to a born Jew, so they might fulfill them properly.