JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review June 5, 2003 / 5 Sivan, 5763

Revelation: The basis of faith

By Rabbi Pinchas Stolper

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Is it conceivable that G-d would place man on this earth without a roadmap? It is possible that G-d would leave man completely to his own devices, allowed to make his own decisions and set his own standards? Can each person decide right and wrong for himself, and for everyone else? Is mankind alone — or does G-d care enough so as to instruct us as to what He expects of us?

The most important idea in all of civilization is that G-d communicates with His creation. This is an idea that goes far beyond the belief that our world did not come about by accident, and that there exists a Creator who brought the world into being.

It is not enough to acknowledge that the Creator "exists." This Creator is also a loving and caring Father and King, a G-d Who relates, Who communicates, Who is intensely concerned with His creation. Basic to the Jew's belief is that G-d is a loving and caring Father. (Because we call G-d a "Father" and refer to Him as "He" does not imply that G-d is "male." Male and female apply only to animals and humans — G-d is neither. We use this language simply because we cannot meaningfully conceive of a deity entirely in the abstract.)

As our "Father," He communicates His Will and His purpose to His children. If G-d never communicated with us, it would indicate that He has no message, sets no standards and doesn't care how we behave. It would indicate, too, that G-d is less than His creation — not infinitely more.

Man is a unique creation because he is the only being in the universe in whom G-d implanted "G-dly" qualities. What qualities make man G-dly and unique? Among these are the ability to speak, the ability to make free-will decisions, the ability to develop and refine the spiritual aspects of our personalities, the ability to reach beyond and above ourselves, the desire of the soul to reach higher — and the ability to communicate with the generations which came before us and with those which will follow us. It is these "G-d-like" qualities of speech and choice that make the certainty of communication with G-d so very essential.

The conviction that G-d communicated with our great-grandfathers, telling them in human language what He wants and expects of man for all time, is called Revelation.


On Shavuos, we celebrate the giving of the Torah and affirm the historic Jewish belief that the "Ten Commandments" was spoken by G-d to, and heard publicly in the presence of our forefathers — close to three million people standing at the foot of Mount Sinai. On Shavuos we affirm that G-d is the author of the Torah that He revealed to the entire Jewish Nation, both through His public Revelation at Sinai, and in more detail through Moses our Teacher. The Midrash tells us that in addition to those physically present at Mt. Sinai, the soul of every Jew ever to be born was at the Revelation and accepted the Torah.

It is not difficult to understand why some people don't believe in Revelation — after all, we live in an age of skepticism and doubt, and few of us have been introduced to this idea as a serious possibility. Fewer still have spent the time required to study and investigate the events described in the Torah so as to come to a firm conclusion or understanding concerning Revelation.

It may be said that belief in "Revelation" is in some ways more important than the belief in G-d. If one believes that G-d exists, but does not concern Himself with the world, what difference does it make if He exists? If G-d created the universe, but is too busy "out there" in space to be concerned with man — if He has nothing to say, if He has no standards to set, no demands to make, then what function does G-d serve? If He is not interested in us, why should we be interested in Him?


During the past four thousand years, the Jewish People survived the efforts of nearly every civilization to defeat and destroy it religiously, intellectually and physically, and has held to its claim that G-d spoke openly to the nation at Mount Sinai. How can the Jewish claim be so firm?

The Revelation of the Torah, and the many supernatural events which accompanied it, was a historic occurrence publicly witnessed by 600,000 male adult Jews. Counting their wives and children, approximately 3,000,000 people were present at Mount Sinai. Each father and his sons, each mother and her daughters participated in the Sinai Revelation: It was the major event in their lives. The spectacle itself was awesome; never before in human history had anyone seen and heard the voice of G-d. Naturally, the experience of this unique event was transmitted by word of mouth from parent to child and from them to succeeding generations. Every child knew the facts directly from his own parent. He did not need to be told by clergy to believe it.

Had the Revelation not occurred and had the Torah been written by a group of men who lived many generations after the Sinai event, as some people claim, the Jewish People would have rejected this preposterous claim being thrust upon them. Fortunately, an unbroken chain of thousands of years in the history of the Jewish People is based upon this historic experience and the certainty that all the events described in the Torah occurred. Through the ages, not one person denied that this truth was the major truth in their family tradition.

Today, in many families in which the certainty of this tradition has been lost, we still usually find that there is some form of Passover Seder. If asked where the family got the idea to participate in a Seder, most people will say that they do it because their parents did. Upon reflection, they will realize that their parents had a Seder because their grandparents did, who had one because their parents did — and so on, right back to the Exodus! As the Exodus predated the giving of the Torah by 50 days, they may be assured that if they have a tradition of a family Passover Seder, their great-grandparents were also present at Sinai.

Judaism is the only religion that dares to make the claim that G-d spoke directly to all of our Jewish ancestors. Other religions claim that G-d spoke to one designated "prophet," but never that an entire nation witnessed G-d's direct communication. Were they able to make such a claim, they would have done so. But it is impossible to make such a claim: It is impossible to get away with it if it is not true. The perpetrator would instantly be revealed to be a fake.

While some Jews may find the Torah difficult to live by, no one during our four thousand year history claimed that the Torah wasn't revealed to the Jewish People — not even the movements of opposition or rebellion against kings or rabbis, prophets or princes. Not one opposition group or party challenged the fact of Torah Revelation. The early generations lived close to the reality of the events. Acceptance was complete and unanimous. There were so many live witnesses to the many specific historic events in the Torah, and the Torah provides so many details, that it was impossible to suspect that an entire nation could be fooled. Concerning the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, there was complete unanimity for thousands of years — until the emergence of the "Reform" movement in modern times.

The "pious hoax" they claim took place could never have been perpetrated on a nation so stubborn, rebellious, doubting and questioning as the Jews. Jews have always been this way, back to the time of Abraham and particularly during the generation of the Exodus. Furthermore, Moses, who was G-d's scribe in transmitting the Torah, was modest and truth loving. He resisted accepting the task G-d had given him, and finally accepted with great reluctance. The Torah points out that Moses was a poor speaker; a stutterer. If Moses had been like other kings and leaders, he would have portrayed himself as a god, as a perfect leader, as the originator of a great code of laws — not as a human being who sinned and was punished by G-d.

Nor could Moses have led the Jews to wander in the desert without a plan for feeding, clothing and housing them unless they had absolute faith that G-d would care for them. No people would have followed a leader into the desert without the confidence that this treacherous journey was G-d's Will and that G-d would look after them in that great barren space which lacked water and could not sustain life. The very fact that the 3,000,000 Children of Israel made it through the desert for forty years is in itself evidence of G-d's Hand in this impossible plan.


No other subjective source of knowledge and truth, such as sense perception (sight, sound, smell, taste), intuition, reason, insight or inspiration could be as reliable or as perfect as knowledge received through the direct communication of G-d. At Sinai, millions of people heard the same words at the very same time. Since man is subjective, since we all think differently and have differing opinions, likes and dislikes, we would all develop conflicting ideas of right and wrong and would never be able to agree on a universal standard which all of mankind must have if there is ever to be justice and peace on earth.

There has never been any record of a disagreement concerning the content of Revelation. Nowhere in the entire record of ancient writings, Jewish or non-Jewish, does anyone deny, question or doubt that the Revelation on Mt. Sinai took place. The first questioning of the origins of the Torah comes from non-Jewish sources and derives from the misunderstandings of translators which arose from the hundreds of inaccuracies in the translation of the Torah into foreign languages, as well as the lack of familiarity with the unwritten "Oral Law" (the Mishnah and Talmud), which is an integral part of the written Torah.

The Torah cannot be understood without knowledge of the Mishnah and Talmud. The Written and Unwritten Torahs are parts of one great body of truth and knowledge that can only be understood when studied side-by-side. For example, when speaking of the correct method for slaughtering animals for meat, the Torah says, "You shall slaughter as I have commanded you." Nowhere in the Torah are the details of this "command" provided. Where are the details found? In the Oral Torah. Another example is the exact structure, contents and process of creating tefillin. The commandment to wear tefillin is in the Written Torah, but the details are found only in the Oral Torah. There are many such examples.


Unlike all other ancient historical books and documents, the Torah never covers up or evades unpleasant truths. It is unashamedly truthful and tells things exactly as they are. Its teachings display the highest moral and ethical sensitivity — human failures or sins are constantly pointed out, even in our forefathers and other great moral heroes and role models. In the Torah, Moses himself is reproached for sinning and is punished by not being permitted to enter the Land of Israel. If Moses had written the Torah, as some claim, he would have eliminated those sections where G-d rebuked him for his reluctance to accept responsibility for his sins and impatience. Such an author would have told us fanciful and heroic stories of how he led the victorious Jews into the Land of Israel — not that he failed in his mission and was required to give over the leadership to Joshua. He would not have told the stories of how the people rebelled against his authority time and again.

Furthermore, the Torah contains numerous reminders that the People of Israel were at times disloyal, cowardly, ungrateful, stubborn and rebellious. Were the Torah not the revealed word of G-d, the Jewish People would never have accepted the many unflattering condemnations and criticisms it contains. People of ancient times (as well as now!) never wrote a document that so honestly chronicles its failings.

In fact, no People, other than one scrupulously committed to truth, would admit and even take pride in the fact that its origin was in slavery and idolatry. Each year, we repeat at the Passover Seder, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt" and "In the beginning, our fathers were idol worshipers." Ancient peoples, with the one exception of the Jews, consistently glorified their origins through myth and legend, always describing their descent from "kings and gods." They wrote only of their victories — never of their defeats. Only the Torah of the Jews is uniquely different and consistently honest. We may conclude that given all of these factors, the Jews — who presumably shared the same vanity as all ancient cultures — would not have authored the Torah. Only a Divine Being would give the world such a document and only from such a Divine Being would the Jews accept it as truth.


The Torah introduced hundreds of new laws and practices (the Tabernacle/Temple service, Sabbath, Kosher, the laws of Sanctity, tefillin, tzitzis, etc.) and brought about a complete revolution in the life of each individual, each family and the entire nation.

Some of these laws were given without an explanation. Many were difficult to adopt suddenly, particularly for a people long accustomed to living much differently. No one had even seen the objects described by the Torah, such as tefillin or a mezuzah.

Yet, the entire nation completely revolutionized its way of life in each of many thousands of details. This could not have happened unless each Jew was deeply and unreservedly convinced that each of the 613 commandments represented G-d's law and G-d's Will, unless they were filled with love and awe of G-d and with the certainty that comes with experiencing revelation and prophecy.

The unique contents of the Torah are in themselves an indication of its G-dly origin. No human mind could have invented the elevated and sublime ideas, ideology, laws and systems of the Torah, certainly not in the cultural and religious environment that prevailed at that time. The thinking of every other "civilized" nation was diametrically opposed to the Torah in goal and practice. The peoples of the world and its great civilizations were steeped in war, idolatry, cruelty and inhumanity; their cultures and civilizations were based on values, standards and "morality" which ran opposite to all that the Torah teaches. The ancient world was an age of child sacrifices, of killing an entire family in compensation for a murder, of pagan magic and mutilation, of sexual aberrations, of prostitution as a form of worship, of cruel and inhuman slavery.

Suddenly, the Torah came on the scene and demanded a full day of rest for all, equality before the law, justice, morality, kindness and mercy. The Torah way of life, which was revealed in a vast, vacant desert to a People which had but recently been liberated from slavery, has preserved the Jewish People and has served as the supreme guide of life through nearly four thousand years of unbroken, dynamic, changing human history.

The Jew has lived in agricultural, urban, rural and industrial societies; the Jew has lived in the Land of Israel as well as in nearly every other country and society. Yet, the Jews have lived by the Torah and have been able to aspire to the perfect life through its laws despite the fact that it was given in the desert to a People who were slaves but 50 days before. In every time and every place, Torah laws are applicable and fulfilling. There is no man-made code of laws on earth so flexible, yet so unchanging and enduring. The Torah is a code that has survived for 4,000 years and continues to be mankind's most advanced legal system.

While archeology can never prove or disprove that G-d spoke to Abraham or Moses, archeologists have uncovered scores of the cities and towns mentioned in the Bible as well as the remains of buildings, documents, monuments, scrolls, records and tools. These discoveries substantiate in the minutest detail the descriptions of life and society given in the Torah. The Torah mentions hundreds of details of geography, chronology and genealogy; yet archaeology and its allied sciences have discovered nothing that contradicts the accuracy of the Torah. To the contrary, science is the Torah's staunchest ally.


Because it is of Divine origin, the Torah is able to appeal to people of every inclination, style and age. The mystic and the rationalist, the romantic and the intellectual, all discover that the Torah speaks directly to them. Through the Torah, child, adult and scholar "hear" the living Voice of G-d.

Our greatest minds have devoted their entire lives to the study of Torah and have found it to be inexhaustible. Unlike secular texts or books, you can never finish studying the Torah. No one has ever felt that he was able to fully master it or to outgrow it. The Torah is written in such a way that it "grows" as a person's mind develops and matures.

Because the Torah is written simultaneously on many levels, it can be studied by a young child as well as a seasoned scholar; one can understand it superficially or plumb its esoteric depths. It remains an inexhaustible source of Divine wisdom and truth. No other "book" bears such unique characteristics.

Another important point to consider: Religions in the Western world, including the many branches and forms of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all consist of borrowings from the rich table of Orthodox Torah Judaism. In other words, the basic religious expression of all the many countries which practice any form of monotheism in North and South America, Europe, Australia and a large portion of Asia would not exist were it not for the ideas they borrowed from our Torah and their acknowledgement that the Torah is G-d's true word. The foundation and wellspring of all human monotheistic spiritual expression has its origins in the Torah. It is not logical for anyone to seriously consider any form of religious practice or belief without first carefully investigating and seriously considering the claims of Orthodox Judaism, since they are Torah-based and the foundation of all monotheistic religions.


We tend to think in scientific categories. Everything must fit into some neat group. There are countries, nations, religions, rocks, minerals and animals. This leads us to think that the Jews and the Torah must also fit into a category. And somehow, all things within that category tend to be regarded as equivalent. We tend to generalize, then, that the Jews must be a nation (or a religion) and that the Torah is a book. In actuality, however, these generalizations are inaccurate.

The most meaningful categories are those that are unique. Our universe is unique; man is unique; G-d is unique. So, too, His Torah, His People, His land, His language are all unique creations that fit into no other categories. They were created for the special purpose of bringing man closer to the goals and purposes for which he was created.

The unique Torah is G-d's greatest gift to mankind, the key to human happiness and fulfillment. Its secrets reveal a world of truth, grandeur, depth, challenge, meaning and achievement. It is a jewel that is yours to have if you possess the wisdom and maturity to make it your own.

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Rabbi Pinchas Stolper is the author, most recently, of Living Beyond Time The Mystery and Meaning of the Jewish Festivals, from where this essay was adapted. (To purchase a copy, click on the link. Sales help fund JWR.) To comment, please click here.


© 2003, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.