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How Can I Trust the Truth of Sinai?

How do we know that Moshe Rabbeinu did not do some kind of magic of lights and pyrotechnics that caused the nation to believe that that's what happened?


Rabbi Elyashiv Kafka

Kislev 8 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Question: I'm a religious person, but of late the following issue has been bothering me: Our faith is based on the giving of the Torah at the Stand at Mt. Sinai. How do we know that Moshe Rabbeinu did not do some kind of magic of lights and pyrotechnics that caused the nation to believe that that's what happened? Today, too, we have great magicians who fool the audience into thinking what they want them to think – so surely 3,335 years ago, with a generation that basically believed in idol-worship, magicians could certainly fool people! 

And secondly, what's this in the Book of Kings about King Hezkiyahu suddenly finding a Torah scroll and getting the nation to vow to observe everything written there? Perhaps everything began right then??

Answer: Firstly, it's great that you are clarifying your doubts. The Torah, our Torah of Truth, is not afraid of difficult questions, because it is the word of the Creator and Director of the world. In addition, Torah giants throughout the generations dealt successfully with heretical opinions, including nowadays as well. And so, let us proceed.

As you said, the people three or four millennia ago were primitive – but they were not stupid. The ancient world developed the fields of medicine, architecture, agriculture, and many others in a most impressive manner, given the tools and knowledge they had. Yes, many of them believed in idol worship and other nonsense, but this does not mean they were stupid. It could very well be that there are aspects and layers of existence that our ancestors were able to experience, yet we are not aware of them. The primeval, powerful forces of natural life, represented by the various idols, constituted a tremendous force of attraction that was apparently very difficult to resist. Proof of this is that Bnei Yisrael themselves, who had plenty of experience with One G-d and His miracles, fell into this trap for hundreds of years. I therefore reiterate that idol worship does not necessarily indicate foolishness in other areas of life. In order to get an entire nation to trust a leader and his very stringent demands, a lot more than magic or charisma would be needed.

Let me also add that not only were the Children of Israel not dense, but regarding Moshe's mission to them and G-d's demands, they were not at all gullible or naïve. In fact, they were quite skeptical and unwilling to accept at face value everything G-d did. The Torah tells us that they challenged and tested G-d more than once. And all the more so regarding Moshe, against whom they had complaints starting back in Egypt that he had caused Pharaoh to work them harder, and then in Masa and Merivah, and Korach and his gang, and the Spies, and more. Of course, in the end, they understood that everything he said was actually G-d's word. It is therefore simply incorrect to say they simply followed Moshe blindly. No amount of magic could convince an entire nation of millions of people that they experienced what they did not, and to follow a book of so many stringent laws so different than everything they were accustomed to. This "magician" would have had to lead these millions across a barren desert for 40 years, including wars and hunger, all based on his convincing them of fake miraculous occurrences just a generation earlier – that they had never heard of before. Not possible, to say the least.

Regarding your second question: Let's say the Prime Minister would find today in the Knesset archives a document in which is written that Ben-Gurion and the other founders of the State of Israel had decided that the State would not be democratic, but rather a dictatorship, and that it would be run only by a direct descendant of Theodor Herzl, and that no commerce could be waged for 100 days of the year. The document also authorizes the dictator to supervise and disapprove the menu and clothing styles in each and every home, and to issue harsh punishments to violators. The archives management states that the document is authentic, and that all other documents purporting to establish Israel as a Jewish democracy are forged. Would you believe the Prime Minister? Would anyone? I imagine the answer is clear.

The story of the Torah Scroll found by King Hezkiyahu must be understood in this light. It is impossible to think that he found something totally opposite to everything they believed in and that he would cause such a shock throughout the nation by forcing them to accept something to which they had no previous connection. They would never have consented to this.

Rather, the Scroll found by the king was the very one written by Moshe himself. This is why the king is quoted as saying, "I have found the Torah Scroll." Why was this such a surprise and shock? Because when they opened it, they found that it was precisely turned to the passage of Divine rebuke in Deuteronomy – something that was totally appropriate to the turbulent times in which they were living. They saw this as a sign from Heaven, with the result that the king hurried to return the nation to worship of G-d.

If you wish to delve even further, I recommend the site with learned articles (in Hebrew) on matters of Jewish faith, prophecy, modernity, and more. May you have great success!

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