B”H. 25 Iyar, 5719
Mr. Yitzchak Damiel,
Peace and blessing!
I have received your letter, with the enclosed question from the young men and women. Please apologize to them on my behalf for the delayed response. I was especially preoccupied throughout the days and weeks before and after Pesach.
As the question itself cannot be fully dealt with in a letter, I have to limit my response to a number of fundamental points, but I hope that you will be able to add your own explanation to these points in my letter, based on the teachings of our Torah and especially the teachings of Chassidut.
Needless to say, if there are any aspects of my letter which are not sufficiently clear, I am always ready to respond to further inquiries — and even challenges or refutations — which I will endeavor to answer to the best of my ability.
In response to the question:
“Is there a convincing proof for the existence of the Creator that could satisfy us as skeptics beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt?”
At first glance the question seems simple enough, especially since the concepts are straightforward and the terms familiar. But this apparent simplicity is deceptive, and to address the question properly requires clarity of language and careful definition of terms. In particular, what do we mean by “existence” and “proof” of existence? We must start here because these words mean very different things to different people. For example, that which constitutes complete proof for a young child may be totally inadequate for a meticulous scientist, and vice versa.
For instance, some say that for children, existence and proof of existence apply only to tangible objects – “seeing is believing.”
Included in this kind of proof is the general idea of a report. This too is a proof based on perception, except that it is someone else’s perception. Consider, for example, a person born blind and who has never seen the shade of pink called magenta. Does he have convincing proof for the existence of that color? Surely he will rely on the perceptions of others who tell him that there is such a thing as light, that it comes in various colors, and that these colors come in different shades, one of which is magenta. Although magenta is totally beyond anything in his experience, he has absolutely no trouble believing in this entity because he trusts other people’s reported perceptions.
At a more abstract level, another perfectly acceptable kind of proof is reasoning from effect to cause. Everyone acknowledges with complete certainty that everything that happens has a reason and cause for happening. Thus when one sees actions, these themselves are proof of an activating force, even though this is not direct proof and superficially there appears to be room for doubt. A classic example is the existence of electric power. Man is a sentient being; his sense of sight verifies the existence of colors, his sense of hearing verifies the existence of sound, etc. These are considered complete, direct proofs; yet, while we can sense current, man has no faculty to perceive electric potential, or voltage. We only see its effects, such as a filament glowing or a voltmeter’s needle moving, etc. Still, we are certain of our conclusion that there exists some imperceptible force, which we term electricity, which is the reason behind what we do see. This is considered conclusive proof in the same way one proves the existence of magnetism and other forces. Electricity is a prime example because its existence is totally accepted beyond any shadow of a doubt.
The scientist’s faith in cause and effect is so intense that he will accept as undisputed fact the existence of an activating force, even if it plainly contradicts rationality. A case in point is the force of gravity. We are so familiar with the idea of gravity from every science book throughout our school years, that no one would dream of questioning it, even though rationally it is far more difficult to accept than electricity. Electricity is only imperceptible when it is still, but when it flows it can be felt and measured. Not so with gravity; no one has ever seen, felt or measured a wave or particle of gravity. Our only proof that the force of gravity exists is that physical bodies move. But how can a force act from afar with no intermediary whatsoever between the masses? With a remote controlled garage door or toy, there is a flow of measurable infrared or radio waves, but with gravity there is nothing but the simple faith that every action has a cause.
At first scientists tried to explain the force of gravity by assuming the existence of a fine mediating substance called ether. But the idea had to be abandoned because the proposed medium would have necessarily had so many contradictory properties that it became even more implausible than the alternative absurdity of remote action without any connection.
Anyone in the exact sciences who wonders whether the existence of the Creator can be reliably proven should consider another “standard” concept, derived from the realm of physics. This idea is so intellectually challenging that after many decades of study, even the experts admit it is beyond their comprehension. Nonetheless it is accepted by all exact scientists as a reality, and it is a proven fact in the eyes of the public. The idea referred to is that matter is nothing but a particular form of energy, and that it is possible to transform matter into energy and energy to matter. Superficially it may be hard to see what is so difficult about this notion of relativity. However if one takes a moment to consider the degree of similarity between the light now emanating from his bulb, and the shoe on his foot, and then tries to imagine converting one into the other and back again, the problem becomes crystal clear. Everything in our experience leads us to think that matter and energy are as fundamentally different as two things can be. Therefore, to say that they are equivalent does not even sound, say, reasonable-but-difficult; it simply sounds ridiculous.
As with gravity, the only compelling proof for relativity is that we see events that have no apparent explanation and if we accept the theory – they are explained. This is considered a scientific proof and, on this basis alone, relativity is accepted virtually everywhere as conclusively demonstrated beyond the faintest doubt, even though from a strictly rational standpoint, the equivalence of matter and energy is not at all compelling.
People act in accordance with their beliefs, and skeptics are no different. Hence it is reasonable to expect that a skeptic will feel free to use as a basis for action any ideas that are shown to meet his criteria of legitimacy. On this basis, there is not only one, but several proofs for the existence of G‑d and, as mentioned, there is no problem if one is forced to say that this existence is not grasped by the senses or the mind, or even if it contradicts rationality. As long as this existence accounts for observed reality and does so better than any other proposition, we have what is usually considered to be conclusive, scientific proof.
In this sense, proving the existence of the Creator is the same as proving anything else, whether in the realm of science or in the context of our daily lives.
Anyone who examines his daily conduct will admit that he doesn’t perform a penetrating, thorough analysis assessing the reliability of the information on which he bases his daily activities. If the weather forecast calls for rain, he wears his boots even though he has never met the weatherman or studied meteorology, and furthermore he knows that the weatherman is often wrong. For another example, if Vitamin E is reported to cure baldness, he will take it without knowing for sure how it works or if it works. He’ll take it without even knowing what it is. Rather he accepts the words of others who did look into the matter.
Only where there is some doubt that maybe the “information” was faked or that the observer was affected by internal or external factors, or that he wasn’t sure himself and took someone else's view, etc…Then one would seek additional evidence. And with every increase in the number of observers, and with every type of variation in position, situation and context relative to the observers, the likelihood of deception becomes more remote and the evidence is strengthened in the form of a scientific and convincing proof. On this basis, the individual and society engage in all kinds of activities and projects, with complete trust that their conclusions are true and established.
So too in our case. The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai was verified, generation after generation, as a fact proven by the presence of 600,000 adult males. If one includes women, children, Levites, men over sixty, etc., there were present millions of individuals, including Egyptian emigrants, who saw the events with their own eyes and experienced Divine communication personally and simultaneously.
This is not a testimony restricted to a single prophet, a dreamer or an elite group. This testimony was transmitted from parent to child, generation after generation, and everyone acknowledges that there was no interruption in the transmission from then until now. Moreover, there have never been less than 600,000 reporters in any generation, people whose characters were dissimilar and who were by no means afraid to disagree on basic issues, as is well documented from Sinai on. Yet, despite all their differences and arguments, and despite their being dispersed throughout the world for millennia, all the versions of the above historical event are similar in every detail. Is there more reliable and precise testimony than this?
There is a second manner of proof which is also based on the premise above – that everything that happens has a cause, that seeing any event or situation is proof positive that some guiding force exists, even if the event was apparently senseless or destructive. This proof is as follows:
Consider any object. Virtually anything that one can imagine is composed of various parts that are arranged and coordinated with remarkable precision. None of the parts has any inherent control over the others and yet we know that the harmonious and unified functioning of the entire system is itself a phenomenon and must be due to some cause. We conclude from this with complete confidence that there is an external power that binds and unifies all the parts. Moreover, the very fact that it binds and unifies the parts proves that it is stronger than they are since it controls them.
For example, if we were to enter a factory where everything was run automatically and we did not see anyone there, we would not doubt the existence and involvement of a great mechanic whose knowledge encompassed all the machinery and component parts and who controlled them – one who was in charge of their functioning among themselves and who maintained the connection between the parts and the control center. On the contrary – the more concealed the hand of man in such a factory, and the more the operations are automated, the more impressed and convinced we are of the mechanic's remarkable skill.
And if this is the case with a factory, where we are speaking of hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of parts, how much more true is this for natural objects, e.g., a piece of wood or stone, a plant or an animal, and – needless to say – the structure of the human body, as Job states, "From my flesh I will envision…" This is especially so from the scientific perspective that every object is comprised of billions of atoms, with each atom containing even more minute parts. One would think, at first glance, that chaos would reign and yield incomparable disorder. But instead, we see an amazing orderliness and a marvelous fitting of the smaller parts to the larger, up to the very largest as well as the integration of microcosmic and macrocosmic patterns and processes, etc., etc. It is therefore clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that there exists a "Mechanic" responsible for all this.
One might say that all this is governed according to the "laws of nature" – but I think it is important to emphasize that such expressions have no explanatory content, but rather give a convenient summary or description of the existing situation. That is, it is true that natural phenomena are conducted according to definite patterns. But to say that a “Law of Nature" is a being in and of itself without dependence, and that this being rules throughout the cosmos, and that there are thousands of beings like it, according to the number of natural laws, is so absurd that there is not one scientist in the field who would say so. Rather it is the case that such laws are merely convenient, summary expressions for describing a situation, so that one should not be forced to duplicate at every turn a lengthy description of the "simple" facts. But however elegant and sophisticated a law of nature may be, it is clear and obvious that such an expression provides no explanation whatsoever.
Now to the heart of the matter. To put it plainly, everyone has criteria for what can be reliably considered true. If an idea meets those standards, it is fit to be believed and acted upon. If it does not, then it is not suitable for belief or as a basis for action. But one may not adopt certain truth criteria when it is convenient, and then drop them when it is not. Therefore, it is assumed that anyone who is seeking a proof is not merely doing so for the sake of intellectual exercise, but would indeed live by his conclusions.
In this regard it should be noted that the aforementioned proof is much stronger than all those proofs and evidence by which people conduct their daily lives. What simpler illustration is there than the fact that, when retiring at night, one arranges everything for the morning even though there is no logical proof that tomorrow morning the sun will rise yet again and that all natural systems will continue to function as they did yesterday and the day before. It is only that since the world has been working this way for so many days and years, one trusts that these "laws" will also rule tomorrow and the next day.
And on this basis alone, a person strives and troubles himself to prepare his affairs for the following morning, even though he has no logically compelling reason to do so. On the contrary, if chance or random probabilities were running the show, it would be more reasonable to assume that tomorrow will be utterly unpredictable. The conviction that nature will continue to function as it did today is only logically compelling when it is based on the knowledge that there really is a Master of the world.
Although more could be said on everything that was discussed above and certain points could be explained further, this should suffice and provide enough material for consideration and conclusion. For it is incorrect to maintain that the Creator's existence requires proof, while His Creation itself exists beyond doubt, because in fact the opposite is true! Recent results of scientific research, regarding the existence of the universe and ways to "describe" it, contradict each other in numerous areas and indeed leave room for major doubts. But the most serious, significant and fundamental scientific doubt is as follows:
Who can establish whether the perceived impression of the eyes, of the ears, or of the brain generally, has any reality outside human sensation or thought? This argument poses an insurmountable challenge to the truth of the world's existence but in no way applies to the Creator, nor to the functional reality of event causation and universal order. For this, practically speaking, it doesn't matter whether there exists an independent reality or just the impression of such a reality. The primary consideration of the average person, and according to which he lives his whole life, is that for everything in his world there is a cause which acts, from within or without
A further note of importance is that often human nature is such that when one is given a simple proof, it is difficult to accept because of its very simplicity. Such irrational rejection is unfortunate because it precludes any effect on personal behavior, while one of the foundations of our faith in the universe's Creator and Director, as well as the stand at Sinai and the receiving of the Torah and its commandments, is that the quality of a person's deeds is what matters most.
I will be pleased to hear responses to all the above, and as mentioned in the enclosed letter, I hope they will feel completely free to present their opinions, even if they disagree with what is written above.
A Call to the Heart
B”H. 18 Sivan, 5719
Peace and blessings!
As a follow-up to my previous letter/response to your open question: “Is there convincing proof for the existence of the Creator that could satisfy us as skeptics beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt?” I find it necessary to add the following lines, as will be explained.
In my previous response, I limited my reply to the parameters defined in your question, i.e. to prove… beyond a shadow of a doubt.” Your words made it clear that you were looking for a logical and rational response.
It is self-understood, however, that this approach did not satisfy me, for two main reasons:
a) In general, people’s emotions and approach to spirituality count for more than the conclusions reached intellectually.
b) Especially for Jews, whose intellect is only a garment for the soul — as explained by the Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch — and whose soul is “literally a part of G‑d,” a call to the soul, not necessarily through the means of the intellect, is much stronger. We see clearly that in areas of the soul, the emotions have greater effect than the intellect.
Nevertheless, I did not want to get into this issue in my first letter because of the way you asked the question, as mentioned. Even more importantly, I did not want to leave any room for error that the content of my last letter was not sufficient on its own, or that its arguments could be logically refuted. This is why I send this continuation as a separate letter.
It would be needless to emphasize that I judge the inquirers in accordance with the assumed status of Jewish men or women, i.e., that regardless of how they may decide rationally they believe in the truth of righteousness and justice. This belief is strong enough that they would make sacrifices, even sacrifices in their personal lives, for the sake of righteousness and justice, and for the sake of helping one another. This is especially so when the assistance is not merely to an individual, but is rather to a group great in both quantity and quality.
The Job of Jewish Youth Today
Therefore, after having removed the chains and limitations posed by the wording of your question, I allow myself to turn to you as one speaks to a friend with the following:
I see from your letter/question that you are still young, at least insofar as still possessing the energy of youth. You are also young in the sense that you are willing and able to rebel against the majority opinion, if you reach the recognition that it is necessary to do so, and to change your lives from one extreme to the other.
Certainly it has not been lost upon you — when thinking about our world in the present — what happened to our nation in recent years, during the Holocaust. Millions of our people were destroyed in the recent war years — and that leads to the addition of several new responsibilities that never existed before, or that existed only to a small degree.
Another point. Not only have confusion and the blurring of boundaries not lessened in our times, but on the contrary: It has increased at a frightening pace, so much so that it has coerced tens of thousands of people to accept darkness as light and bitter as sweet!
At a time like this, the innermost call to the essence of every single person’s soul is to be amongst those who stand on the front line of people working to fulfill their missions, not only as a personal obligation, but also as reserves filling the roles of the most energetic and best of our people who were cut down in the Holocaust. This must be a fight not just to negate this confusion of values from one extreme to another, but also to disseminate the eternal values of our people in the most certain manner, with the strength and energy of youth, until each and every one of you becomes a spark, kindling the flames of all the souls around you. Is this a time for academic discussions? Meanwhile you are missing out on a day, a week, a month, a year. This is a loss that can never be recovered; opportunities are being missed that can never be replaced!
If this demand is true towards every person, how much more so is it true for the youth and young adults. We see clearly that for the new generation, the younger generation, words of encouragement and excitement from other people their age accomplish a lot more than words from elders, and they are accepted much more willingly.
As mentioned, I do not wish to enter here into a discussion of logical proofs as to the eternal values of the Jewish people, or what the new jobs and missions are. I rely on each one of you that you will definitely recognize them, if you open a book of Jewish history, which extends for thousands of years, soaked in incomparable blood and decrees, and terrible hardships that were never experienced, even in part, by any other nation or creed. If you think about Jewish history, you will find only one set of values that was kept throughout the generations, and remains unchanged until today.
It isn’t a question of logical proof since the facts, the actual events and occurrences, relay a clear and undeniable testimony. Not the spoken language, not the manner of dress, not the external culture or mode of living, not a nationalistic or economic model; none of these are our eternal and lasting values. All of these changed, drastically, from time to time and from country to country. The only thing that remained fixed without any changes in all the places and all the times was the Living Torah, and the practical Mitzvot in our day-to-day lives. These are “the eternity of Israel, which shall not lie.”
May it be G‑d’s will that these lines — few in quantity — should arouse your inner strengths that are latent in the soul of every Jew, to actualize them in an ever-increasing manner. If there is any need for reward — although doubtless the spiritual satisfaction will be your greatest reward — the Creator and Master of the world is certain to provide you rewards also in your personal affairs, each one according to his or her individual needs and situation.
With respect, and with blessings for good tidings.
Pesach Sheni, 5723
In response to your letter, which consisted of several general questions relating to faith and religion. You begin your letter with a warning that you don’t believe in G‑d, Heaven forbid, because you are uncertain as to whether He exists.
You can understand my amazement at this “statement,” even though this type of language is unfortunately common in the questions posed by many young people. There is only room for doubt about G‑d’s existence when one lacks true consideration and thought, especially since the reply to this question has long been publicized and available in many books in print. It is only because of its utter simplicity that some people refuse to accept it.
This can be compared to a person who sees a book that contains many pages of intellectual content. Yet, he stands and declares that he doesn’t believe that a thinking human being was involved in writing the book, and in setting the type, and in binding it. He doesn’t believe — because of a lack of evidence — in the existence of the author and printer, who did their work with wisdom and expertise.
The truth is that this comparison would still be relevant even if the book contained only a few pages; how much more so is it true with regard to our entire world! It is especially modern science that has revealed within the world an amazing order in every single aspect, and every day they discover new harmonies, orders, and synchronicities, that amaze everyone who studies them.
It should be noted that this should lead not only to a certainty in the existence of a Creator, but also to an assurance that His intellect and abilities are incomparably greater than all intellects and abilities in the universe.
The above includes also the conclusion that would provide an answer for all of the other questions in your letter: Your questions about the way the world works, and that in your mind, or the mind of this or that person, it should have been run differently.
It would seem that this question is a continuation of the first, for if you don’t understand the reason for the way things are, that would be a proof to you that there is no Creator or Master of the world.
Another analogy: A young child is brought into a huge factory. He declares that if he will understand all the details of how and why everything works in a specific manner, he will admit that someone planned and set up the machinery and their mode of operation. But since certain details in the factory seem to him to be illogical, and he has strong questions about them that seem to him unanswerable, he comes to the definite conclusion that there is no intellect, plan, or purpose whatsoever in the entire plant.
It should be noted that in the analogy, the differential between the child and the engineer who designed the factory is only one of development, i.e., it is a relative and comparable difference rather than an absolute one. After all, the designer was also once a child, at a similar intellectual level as the questioner. In our case, on the other hand, the differential between Creator and creation is incomparable and inestimable.
By the way — and maybe it is more than just by the way — what can guarantee that people will behave in a righteous and just manner, if not for the belief in a greater power?
In previous generations there were some who believed (and I stress this word, because it was no more than a belief) that one could rely on the natural inclination to justice in man’s heart. Hence there would be no need for belief in a Creator who commands people to behave in a certain manner. According to this belief, man’s internal moral sense would render unnecessary any Divine mandate to rein his will, desires, or rationalized values, because of his supposed intrinsic integrity. In our generation, however, the facts have been painfully and conclusively disclosed that this assumption is completely invalid.
The very nation which spawned a diversity of famed pioneers of diverse philosophical perspectives, including various ethical systems, as well as the greatest scientists — it was specifically that nation, with all of it tens of millions of citizens, that murdered and destroyed millions of men, women, and children without any justification. Their annihilation was based purely on a feeling of superiority and control. In fact, their leaders “sanctified” their actions by receiving approval from the scientists and the heads of the universities, including even founders of philosophical and ethical systems, approval without any conditions or reservations at all.
Of course, I know that there were individuals amongst that nation who disagreed. But that doesn’t override or even weaken the fact that hundreds of professors and scientists were among the ideologues behind the Third Reich’s behavior.
Although all of the above was written as a response to your letter, I do not believe at all what you write that you do not believe in G‑d, Heaven forbid. Moreover I am certain that you do not believe it either. Proof positive of this: You write that whenever you see injustice around you, or whenever you are reminded of the Holocaust which was perpetrated by Hitler, may his name be obliterated, it disturbs you. If there truly were no Master or Designer to the world, why would it be surprising when things occur that are the opposite of morality and justice? On what basis could one expect something other than the “law” of the jungle where whoever is bigger than someone else swallows him alive?
This question doesn’t only apply in extraordinary circumstances like the Holocaust. Even in the course of what we call our “regular” day-to-day lives, any event that seems to be unfair or unjust bothers us, and we feel that it should never have happened. Obviously, inanimate matter, or even animals, are not expected to be fair and just. The fact that we are disturbed by these events must be connected with something that is higher than the mineral, vegetable, or animal kingdoms, higher even than human beings. This “something” is inside the heart of every person. It is the root of our certainty that there should be justice in the world, and that people should behave fairly. This is why, when we see something that seems not befitting, we spare no energy in searching for the cause that brought about the opposite of what should be.
I will conclude with what you wrote at the beginning of your letter, that you are an advisor in a youth movement. I hope that you will recognize your responsibility to direct your charges in the path of justice and righteousness. This path, as mentioned, is the right one even when our desires or will may be opposed to it. And, it can only last if it is based on a belief in the living G‑d, who gave us the Torah of life, and commanded us to do the Mitzvot “that a person shall do, so that he shall live in them.” And if in every case of leadership, there is a great responsibility upon the leader or counselor, how much more so is this the case when dealing with youth. Every improvement or (heaven forbid) deterioration in their outlook of the world, even if it is meanwhile quite small, can have a decisive effect when they grow older and become independent.
Obviously if you have any reactions to the above you may write to me with complete openness, without any hesitation. However, as mentioned, you have a mission and purpose which is more important than all of these questions and answers: To lead the youth in the path of our faith and its eternal values, the Torah and its Mitzvot, for only in them and through them can one live a life worthy of the name.
B”H, 14 Av, 5719
Peace and blessing!
In response to your letter of 8/9, which was filled with questions and challenges.
I hope that there is no need to explain to you that in general this is not the proper path to achieve any goal — by starting with problems, and with many different problems all at once. If you want to understand a given perspective, and especially if you wish to understand a comprehensive worldview, an all-encompassing outlook on life, it is first necessary to rid yourself of any preconceived notions. First of all, you must divest yourself of the decision that “I must find failings and fault and the more, the better.”
And although our Sages advise, “a shy person doesn’t learn,” I must say that from the tone of your letter it seems your questions do not stem so much from curiosity, but rather as mentioned above, from challenges, problems, and maybe more.
Still, I judge you favorably and assume that ultimately your intent was for the good. Perhaps it is only that nobody ever taught you the proper way to approach the study of a worldview or outlook on life, and you are not personally responsible for the approach in your letter, etc. Therefore I will attempt to answer your questions, at least in short, although such questions are generally better discussed face to face. Certainly several of the local Chassidim or those in your Yeshiva would have responded much as I do below. And, when speaking orally, it is much easier to expand at greater length and in greater depth on the areas that most concern the listener. In a letter, on the other hand, it is not always possible to decipher what is most not understood, and which issues are not quite so central.
a) Is it possible to prove that the Torah was given by G‑d at Sinai?
The proof of this has already been elaborated in several of my letters, as well as in the books of great Jewish scholars published long ago. Let us take for example your actual day-to-day life, in the vast majority of instances. When you decide on a course of action, even one that requires an expenditure of much energy or money, you don’t demand of yourself one hundred percent certainty that the hoped for results will happen. Rather, you rely on the opinion of others.
For instance, when you buy a ticket to travel somewhere, you do not first personally examine the bus or train, and study mechanics to learn how it works, in order to be certain that you will be able to use this ticket to travel and reach your destination. This is true not only in areas where the return on the investment will come immediately, so that you will shortly know for sure; rather, it is true even with regard to areas where the results will be years in the making. If you honestly examine your own actions, you will find that you rely not only on your own knowledge, but rather also on what you have been told by reliable people, as long as there is no reason to suspect these people of lying, or of having some vested interest in leading you astray. Moreover, the greater the number of people testifying that something is true or is functional, the greater is your certainty in your decision to rely on them.
Furthermore, even in life and death issues, such as a serious operation (may G‑d protect us) you rely on the surgeon, as long as he has a certificate which states that he completed his studies under another expert surgeon ten or twenty years earlier and that he is a competent doctor. It is even better if you get personal testimonials from patients, who say that he treated them successfully. Based on this testimony, you would allow a person to perform a very serious surgery, even though he is just a mortal individual, and he himself says that he may make a mistake or fail in the procedure, even though he has been successful several times in the past in similar situations. The entire basis is the fact that you rely on other people’s testimony. In important issues, the only difference is that you do not rely on just the testimony of one, two, or three people, but rather you search for the opinions and testimonials of many people.
This mode of verification is even more widespread regarding events that happened in the past. There is no way to discern now whether events unfolded in one specific manner or another. Nevertheless, no normal person would doubt the consensus of three or four historians. Even if they contradict each other in some details, the majority opinion usually is accepted, especially if it is an overwhelming majority, such as ten, one hundred, or even one thousand against one. The majority testimony is then accepted as a verified certainty.
After that introduction: The fact that the Torah was given on Sinai directly from G‑d is not some new theory that was floated recently. We heard about it from our parents, and our parents heard it from their parents, etc., all the way back, from generation to generation. (In each and every generation it was transmitted in the exact same version, by hundreds of thousands of people from the broadest possible range of backgrounds, all repeating it exactly the same way. From the time of the giving of the Torah, there was never a time or place in which the tradition changed.) It goes all the way back to that very generation, the Children of Israel who entered the Land of Israel with Yehoshua, who heard it from their parents who had left Egypt, who had themselves stood at Mount Sinai, and had themselves heard the Voice declare: “I am the L_rd your G‑d.”
Obviously, if this story was a rumor that had started suddenly in one of the generations since, there could be no way that hundreds of thousands of people would all conspire to disseminate this rumor simultaneously; namely, that there had been a giving of the Torah. Certainly, someone would have objected: “What is this new idea, that we never heard about before?!” One may expand considerably on this line of reasoning, which is, as mentioned, many times stronger than all of the hearsay evidence upon which you rely concerning events of even ten or twenty years ago.
b) You might contend that the Christians and Moslems also number in the millions and also preserve their traditions.
However, this poses no challenge at all, since, as mentioned, there is a basic difference. The Christian tradition ultimately narrows down to one person (the apostle Saul), or at most ten or twelve apostles, who claimed that they heard from someone else. They themselves do not claim to have been privy to this “prophecy.” In other words, it ultimately is narrowed down to one mortal person, who may have made a mistake or a change, whether accidentally or purposely. The same is true of the Moslems; the origin of their faith is Mohammed returning from the desert and claiming that he had seen a “prophecy,” etc. etc.
c) Is it possible for non-Jews to achieve elevated spiritual status?
There is a famous ruling by the Rambam that the 'righteous among the nations' have a portion in the World to Come.
d) How can you rationalize to yourself why non-Jews were not given the same opportunities as Jews?
There are several explanations. The primary one is the fact that none of us can comprehend G‑d’s ways, reasons, or actions — why they are specifically in one particular manner or another. This is analogous to the various limbs of the “microcosm,” man: It is impossible for the leg to achieve the intellectual understanding of which the brain is capable. Similarly, the brain cannot share the emotional feelings of the heart. In other words: Every organ of the human microcosm has its own purpose. Some organs are more complex, while others are simple. But each has its own specific and distinct purpose. Only when it fulfills its function does it achieve its own degree of perfection and fulfillment.
The same is true in the macrocosm, the world at large. Inanimate objects each have their job, as do plants, animals and human beings, each type having its own mission. The Zohar explains that Jews amongst the nations are like the heart within the body. Obviously, the hand or foot cannot attain the same feeling experienced by the heart, since the job of the hand is to write and move, the foot’s job is to walk, etc. Just as you do not wonder why your foot cannot write, or why the heart cannot comprehend intellectual concepts, so too there is no place at all for the question you posed. The above serves to answer as well your next question:
e) Who is better: a righteous non-Jew or a sinful Jew?
The answer is dependent upon your intent. Are you referring to the potential, or are you talking about actuality? Again, compare it to a heart or a brain that is not fulfilling its purpose. In simple terms, which is better: a sick heart or brain, or a healthy foot?
f) According to tradition, we are now in the year 5719 from the creation of the world. How does this fit with “the scientists’ account?”
The answer to this in brief is: All of the sciences, even those that are called “exact sciences,” are based on assumptions that are completely unfounded, and are no more than agreed upon theories. This is most blatant in the area of researching the world’s evolution and development (cosmology).
Among these assumptions: That the laws of nature have not changed at all, and always were exactly the way they are today, without any change; that the atmospheric pressure, radiation, and several hundreds and thousands of other variables, were always approximately the same as they are now; and many other assumptions that have no proof whatsoever… Most central among these assumptions is that the world could not have been created in a completely developed state. Rather, it could only have started with the creation of several separate atoms, which then had to unite, and this fusion would have had to occur in the manner and speed that it would happen today (with no change at all, even though the world was then in its formative stages). Then a given number of years would have been needed, until the world could possibly evolve into a developed condition with animals and humans, etc.
If even some of these assumptions are discarded, then all of the scientists’ conclusions are completely invalidated. For instance, what rational idea could possibly compel someone to believe that G‑d could not create man as is, but rather that He could only create separate atoms, which would then combine on their own, etc.?
P.S. Another proof of how unfounded the scientists’ calculations are: The conclusions as to the age of the universe reached by various fields within science (geology, astrophysics, radioactivity measurements, etc.) contradict each other. Scientific researchers were forced to contrive all kinds of ad hoc rationales to explain away these contradictions.
You write that you are at a loss to find answers to such questions as, “What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of a Jew?” etc., and that doubts and confusions are sorely afflicting you.
As you write that you have attended college and have studied science, you are probably aware of what the approach should be to an intricate problem. If we want to verify a certain system, as to the laws and principles prevailing in it, we begin by verifying the parts of it that lend themselves more easily to analysis and verification. When we have, step by step, verified the greater part of the system, we can then safely assume that if the greater part of it has been found to conform to certain specific laws, the rest of it is also ruled by the same laws. Even common sense justifies the assumption that if a certain law holds good in the vast majority of cases, it is true also in the case where it cannot be verified with certainty.
Applying this approach to the universe as a whole, we are increasingly convinced, year after year, of the law and order that rules in nature, including inert matter; to the minutest atom and even smaller particles. Nuclear science has discovered undreamed-of harmony and order in the some one hundred elements known to this day. In a universe of such orderliness and harmony, obviously man too must be subject to order and purpose.
Going a step further, the conclusion is inevitable that since there is such law and order in the universe, there must be a Higher Authority responsible for it. The analogy is well known: When we get hold of a printed book of hundreds of pages, containing a connected story, or philosophy, we cannot by any stretch of the imagination assume that a bottle of ink has been spilled and has accidentally produced the book. Still less, and infinitely so, is it admissible that our universe, with its infinite number of atoms, molecules and particles, all arranged in perfect order and harmony, could have come into existence by accident. Obviously, there is a Creator and Architect, Who arranges and relates all the various parts of the universe in perfect unity and harmony, in conformity to the set of laws which He creates and supervises.
It is plain that the whole system is beyond our comprehension, since our comprehension, as our existence as a whole, is but an infinitely minute part of the entire cosmic order, and certainly in no degree comparable to the Creator Himself. It is, clearly, absurd to expect to comprehend the Creator, and even more nonsensical to deny His existence by reason of our inability to comprehend Him. Can “one” contain an infinite number of “ones”? And here at least there is some relationship, for both the one and the infinite number of ones are the same objects - numbers, while there is no such community between the created and the Creator.
Carrying the analogy from science a step further: In physics, chemistry, etc., when a law is deduced from a number of experiments, and verified by different people, under varying conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity, etc., thus eliminating the possibility of error, side-effects, etc., such a law is accepted and becomes valid also for the future.
This scientific “rule” holds good also with regard to events and phenomena in the past. Where a certain event or phenomenon is attested to by many historians, and reported in an identical manner, there is no “scientiflc” doubt that is how the event actually took place.
Such an historic event was the Revelation at Mount Sinai, which has been reported in an identical way by millions of people, men, women, and children, people from all walks of life and backgrounds, who had witnessed it themselves, and then faithfully reported to their children, generation after generation, without interruption to this day. At no time, even during the worst pogroms and massacres of Jews, were there less than millions of Jews faithfully maintaining this tradition. It is well known that at no time in Jewish history was there a break in the chain of Jewish tradition from Sinai down to the present day. This makes this event the most authenticated of all historical events in human history!
This means that the Torah we have and cherish is G‑dgiven, and it contains not only our way of life, but also the key to our existence for all times, since it is eternal, as its Giver. It is not a book of theory, philosophy and speculation, but a practical guide for our daily life, valid in all places and at all times, including 20th century America.
Here, in the Torah, the Written and the Oral Law, the purpose of man's life on this earth in clearly indicated. To put it in a nutshell: It is to live in accordance with the Torah, by fulfilling its positive commandments (Mitzvot-assey) and abstaining from its prohibitions (Mitzvot-lo-taaseh.
The Torah has also made provisions for man's frail nature, and the temptations and trials that he, as a creature of flesh and blood, faces in life. It is difficult, almost impossible, for man never to fail, and the Torah has indicated that should this happen, there is no need to be discouraged. There is always teshuva - return to G‑d and to the right path, and the very failure can be made a springboard for a leap forward and further advance.
Needless to say, it is difficult to enlarge upon these aspects in a letter. I trust, however, that the points mentioned will serve as starting points for you to reflect upon and realize that the world is not confusion, and that everything and everybody has his place and purpose. If you can consider yourself objectively, freed from preconceptions, environmental influences, and the like, you will discover your own place and purpose in life, in the light of what has been said above.