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How Do We Know That We Heard G‑d at Sinai?

How Do We Know That We Heard G‑d at Sinai?

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To our enlightened Master and Teacher, the Grand Rabbi of Guadalajara, may he live many years of inner peace and transcendental serenity.

Forgive our ignorance this one more time, you who know the hiding place of all hidden things! Guide us tiny mice through the maze of confusion, oh solver of all puzzles! Explain to us how we can market to the general public this Great and Awesome Event upon which the foundations of our faith are built, this idea of Mass Revelation at Sinai.

Explain to us the evidence that makes it impossible to deny that before three thousand years a heavenly voice boomed down upon the crowd, saying, "I'm the only G-d around here, so you better not have any others. And don't let me catch any one of you lying, stealing, killing, coveting or being disrespectful to your Mom and Dad!"

And then open our eyes and let us know the truth of all truths, oh truthful and authentic sage: If such evidence is so clear and absolute, then why, we beseech you, have the tenured thinkers and scribes of many academic institutions rejected it so?

Response:

Certainly, as salted surfers of the Web, you are intimately familiar with conspiracy. You have heard that no man ever landed on the moon -- it was all filmed in Arizona. Continental drift was initiated in the 50's by the Pentagon to push Russia off the end of the earth. Prozac was developed by AT&T in an attempt to mold human personality to UNIX protocol. Bill Gates owns the Vatican and the Illuminati own Bill Gates. Kellogg's owns the Illuminati and you don't want to know what's in those golden flakes. Time-Warner/AOL is a front for an international association of nuns committed to directing asteroids at California. Asteroids are communist sputniks In case you have been deluded by the propaganda that communism is dead, Bill Clinton is a communist agent and Santa Claus as well.1

Conspiracies are very popular, psychologists say, because they provide simple explanations for a very complex world. But they are absurd. Because, as we all know from Poor Richard's Almanac, three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

The FBI, KGB, FDA, Microsoft, Vatican, Franciscan nunnery of Homeville, Tennessee -- all are filled with competitive, fumbling, in-fighting human beings just like you and I (okay, maybe the nuns are a little more friendly than the guys at Microsoft. But then, so is the KGB). None of them could keep a conspiracy going longer than a week without wrangling over who is in charge, who messed up, who gets the goods, who gets the blame -- and all those other fun, human games that break up rock bands, countries and corporations every day.

If the FBI would attempt a conspiracy, some branch of the CIA would get all upset because conspiracies are their department and who do those glorified police officers think they are anyway? If the commies or any other enterprising group would find a way to take over the world, Microsoft would buy them out in a snap. Everybody knows what Microsoft is up to -- because everybody else invented all of it. And hey, they can't even conspire to make their OS work consistently.

The greatest conspiracy theory of all time is materialism. The idea that some 1080 particles of matter conspire every day to bring us the orderly form of this world before us. Everybody knows that particles can't agree on anything.

The second greatest conspiracy theory is that the Jews invented the Torah. That millions of Jews over thousands of years could conspire to agree on a single version of a national event that never happened. If nobody else can conspire on anything for more than a week, whoever imagined that Jewish people could get a conspiracy off the ground was totally off his rocker? (Actually, weve tried it. One look at Israeli politics will tell you just how hopeless that was.)

About History

Let's examine what the study of history is. Most of us will say that history is the study of what happened. That's bunk. We barely know what's happening right now. How does anybody know what happened in the past? And what defines what really happened?

Perhaps you know the story of one great Renaissance man, Sir Francis Bacon. Sitting in his room above the tavern, he thought, "I have written on philosophy, science and mathematics. Now I will take on history." As he set his pen to the page, Sir Francis glanced out his window and observed a commotion outside. Then he went downstairs to the tavern, where he heard no less than six highly divergent versions of what had occurred. Sir Francis went back upstairs and tore up what he had written so far. He never wrote a book on history.

I think most historians will agree that history as it is practiced in academic circles can be defined as follows: The search for the most likely sequence of events to explain whatever remnants have endured till today.

Following this paradigm, let us examine our case. The evidence is as follows: Universally, there is a single account of how the Jewish people received the Torah. It states that on the sixth day of the third month of the year 2448 from Creation, an entire nation full of dissidents and skeptics gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and witnessed how G-d spoke with Moses. Rather overwhelmed by the experience, they asked Moses to kindly fetch all the details of what exactly G-d would like from them and report on it. Which he did, over a period of forty years wandering in the desert. Moses also charged the people to keep multiple copies of the written record, which they did, and so we have many copies of that record to this day.

Here is the proposed most likely explanation of the existence of this record: Someone made up the whole story. Someone else later wrote it down. A third individual put it together with other manuscripts, and the entire nation conspired to agree that it had actually happened. They agreed to agree on only one version of how it had happened, eradicating any trace of dissent.

Basically, a conspiracy theory. This time, involving huge numbers of people over a very long period of time.

History is not laboratory science -- you can't test it and make observations. But you can still check a theory for inconsistencies. A few bumps here and there are excusable, but with the Jewish conspiracy theory we have some blatant contradictions. For instance:

(a) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the most ingenious people ever. Out of all the peoples of the ancient world, this nation of shepherds and fig-growers came up with the classic work of all time. The work that changed all of history, brought us the concepts of creation ex-nihilo, history, purpose, monotheism, providence, human rights, gave rise to both Christianity and Islam and triggered the Reformation and modernization of western civilization when those gentiles started actually reading it. A supremacy dogma if I ever heard one!

(b) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the stupidest and most gullible people in the world. They fell for a story that restricts their diet, their domination over their slaves, their weekly work habits and their sex-life beyond what any other nation would tolerate. They bought into a lose-lose situation for everybody all 'round: The King's power is restricted, the priestly class cannot own land, and the commoners can't sell it.

They abandon their fields and towns three times a year to the mercy of the hostile nations surrounding them, let those fields lie fallow once in seven years, let their slaves go free after six years, don't charge interest -- and just trust year after year that everything will be okay. After all, G-d promises that when you're planning to leave your land fallow in the seventh, He'll give you a bumper crop in the sixth. So tell me, what happens when one year this just doesn't work out? Do you leave that in the books you're writing?

Furthermore, this theory has the Jewish people making up fables about their blunders in full detail. They declare that they descend from slaves! They tell nasty stories about the forefather of their priestly class, Levi -- even though the Levites were supposed to have written the book. The original high priest gets his hands dirty in the biggest scandal of their history. Who is this fable serving, anyway? Why on earth would anyone want to make up such a story? And what sort of crazy people would want to preserve it?

Second contradiction:

(a) According to this theory, Jews are capable of agreeing on a single version of history. Obviously, to conspire together for so many years in delivering this grand hoax to the entire world, they must be highly cooperative, submissive to authority and like-minded. They must fit well into Eric Fromm's description of the True Believer.

(b) According to this theory, Jews have purposely painted a picture of themselves as recalcitrant, argumentative, scorning of authority and primed to kvetch at the drop of a hat. Not the sort of comrades you would want involved in your classic conspiracy. A personality described by Myers-Briggs Passive-Aggressive Disorder. Of course, this purposeful self-incrimination may be part of the plot. You may decide empirically which description suits best.

The Foundations of Conspiracy

All in all, the conspiracy theory stinks. It doesn't explain anything. There's absolutely no evidence that it's true. And its about as elegant as a walrus in a tutu.

So what does it really stand on? On the very definite assumption that Sinai could not have happened.

Think for a minute: Did those 19th century German historians who introduced us to J, E, P and D (the supposed authors of the Pentateuch) ever examine the evidence and demonstrate scientifically that Sinai could not have happened? Of course not. They didn't need to. They just knew it couldn't happen. Why? Because G-d, if there is one, doesn't speak to Man. Especially lots of men. Period. No discussion.

You know, in the 18th century, astronomers did not believe in meteorites. Museums all over Europe threw out their precious meteorite specimens as humiliating reminders of superstitious mythology. Why? Because, as Antoine Lavoisier, father of modern chemistry declared, "Stones don't fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky!" Period. End of discussion.

Hold it! There's one piece of evidence the biblical critics will hold up: The Pentateuch is written in third person.2 As in "And then G-d spoke to Moses, saying..." as opposed to, "So then I had this chat with the Boss and He said..." Moses wouldn't write about himself in third person. Right? And Moses couldn't have composed the last eight verses describing his passing. So Moses couldn't have composed the Torah.

Right. We all agree on something. Moses did not compose the Torah. Nobody ever said he did. G-d composed it. Moses just wrote it down.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) writes in his introduction to his classic commentary on the Torah that this is the reason the Torah is written in third person: Because Moses is no more than a scribe copying from a primeval document. The Torah exists before creation, before time. It is G-d's wisdom, containing the original proposal, concept paper and design notes from which He created heaven and earth. Abraham knew it, Noah studied it, even Adam had the Torah. Moses was the first who was able to channel the Torah down to earth, to resolve it into ink on the page. If Moses had perceived himself as an author, as anything more than a transparent channel for G-dly wisdom, he would have been incapable of such a task.

To the point that, at the end of his transcribing, Moses attained the ultimate degree of self-abnegation: He writes about his own passing from this world. As the Talmud tells us, "G-d dictated and Moses wrote with tears."

In my humble opinion, Ramban's opinion seems much more internally consistent. It also makes fairy dust out of every other piece of evidence biblical critics will cite. And this is the traditional history stated clearly in the Torah: That an entire nation witnessed G-d speaking to Moses the Ten Commandments:

G-d said to Moses, Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever! (Exodus 19:9)

G-d spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets. (Deut.4:9-13)

Once the people had witnessed this, they believed Moses. As Maimonides writes:

Israel did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the miracles he performed. When you base your faith on miracles, you're still in doubt. Maybe these miracles were done through magic and witchcraft...

So why did we believe him? The revelation on Sinai which we saw with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, not having to depend on the testimony of others... (Mishne Torah - Foundations of Torah 8:1)

Here we have it. A simple and elegant solution to why, of all nations, this nation ended up with the most counter-intuitive set of rules and customs that have by now overthrown the hierarchy of power and world-concept of most of human society. It was a mass revelation from Above. G-d said it, they had to do it.

Problem is, this doesn't fit with our definition of history: the most likely sequence of events to explain whatever remnants have endured. Divine revelation, especially to a crowd, cannot be called likely. I mean, have you seen one lately? When was the last time you were in a crowd, say at the mall, and a booming voice came out of the heavens to speak to the people?

So, the historian, as we have defined him, must reject it.

Digging a little deeper: Accepting G-d speaking to us at Sinai and instructing us in our daily affairs doesn't sound right to the materialist mind -- even if it believes in G-d. G-d is infinite. The world is a finite place made of finite, real things. G-d just can't fit in here. And so, even if we showed the materialist an onsite video certified by peer review, he would have to reject it. Because it just can't happen.

The human mind, when faced with a choice between the absurd and the impossible, will invariably choose the absurd. The absurd is far less frightening and easier to live with than the impossible. To accept the impossible is to undermine the very basis of the rational world we must live in. And here you are faced with just that choice: To accept an event that is totally out of the question to one who lives in a materialistic world, or simply explain all evidence away as artifacts of an absurd conspiracy.

The world a Jew believes in was created by G-d speaking. And it is sustained in that way over and over at every moment. Every second of the day, a Jew experiences G-d speaking to him or her -- through the events of life, through the mitzvahs that come our way, and especially through the Torah we learn each day. And so, what is so impossible if at one point in history the volume was turned way up and all of us heard the same thing at once? But for the materialist and his version of history, none of this is possible.

So we need another definition of history. As Thomas Kuhn would put it, a new paradigm.3

History, the Other Way:

In Torah Law, history is defined by the testimony of eyewitnesses. When there are no witnesses available, testimony of a court that accepted the testimony of eyewitnesses is accepted. But if something cannot be corroborated by witnesses, as far as Torah is concerned it did not happen. It is simply not part of reality.4

The simplest explanation for this reliance on eyewitnesses is because the Torah is not conspiracy-paranoid. Two witnesses in a decent court will have a very difficult time conspiring together if they have to describe the details of what they saw. Two people can tell the same story, but to describe the same scene precisely is next to impossible.

But if we were quantum physicists, we could philosophize about this a little. Perhaps eyewitnesses are vital because the human observer is a necessary element to all events. After all, this dichotomy of event and observer is a subjective one. Torah provides an objective view, in which event and observer are a single unit. Therefore, one does not exist without the other. In fact, this is the way most quantum physicists prefer to understand the universe. Interestingly, if you were a gentile theoretical physicist living in Germany after 1933, you were labeled a white Jew. Hey, maybe Moses was a physicist!

Furthermore, the idea of searching for the most likely path to arrive at the present smacks of causality-worship. Our white-Jew friend, Heisenberg, knocked that idol off its pedestal a long time ago. According to his way of thinking, anything could happen. In fact, as Schrodinger puts it, until an observer is there, anything did happen.

Having two accounts is also a good scientific approach. Any observation must be confirmed by more than one party in order to get into a textbook. Because a single observer could be reporting on no more than his own perceptual distortion, or the particular conditions of his frame of reference. Accordingly, the best testimony to any event would be that of a large and highly diverse audience.

Torah demands two witnesses. The court drills the witnesses separately to check for discrepancies in their reports. They make certain that both saw the same event at the same time from corresponding perspectives. They make sure there isn't another set of witnesses that has a conflicting eyewitness report. And then their testimony is accepted as fact. And if what the witnesses tell us is the most outrageous and preposterous event unimaginable, we must accept that as the truth.

Within this paradigm, there is no more certain event in the history of humankind than the revelation at Mount Sinai. We're not talking about a couple of broken shards, or an excavated building for archaeologists to argue over. We're not talking about the account of a single individual, or of a handful of ready-made believers. We're talking a mass eyewitness account of a wide spectrum of observers, passed down in an unbroken chain through multiple paths without distortion. We have the consensus of an entire nation for over 3000 years on a single version of that event (Jewish people actually agreeing on something!).

Contrary to popular misconception, Jews don't believe the Torah is Divine because they are gullible, or because it sounds cool and resonates with their inner soul. We know the Torah is Divine because we empirically experienced that to be so. And ever since, we trust the testimony of our teachers and parents who all agree on the same, single version of that empirical event. If you can't trust them, who can you trust?

To put it in terms of Talmudic logic: If one set of witnesses says, "We speculate that it happened like this", and the other says, "We definitely saw that it happened like that", you must believe the second set. The biblical critics speculate -- and they all argue with each other on those speculations. Our tradition states with certainty -- in a single version.

Perhaps the story was exaggerated over the centuries? Also extremely unlikely. We have a single version in our hands. To conspire at making the same exaggerations over centuries is even more preposterous than making the whole thing up together at once and fooling the world.

So here's the paradigm score:

 

Pros

Cons

Sinai Theory

Unbroken tradition from mass eye witnesses.

Sounds outrageously impossible.

Conspiracy Theory

Sounds nicer.

Explains zilch.

Myths in General

Now you're going to say, "Does this mean that if any nation tells us the legends of their people, we must accept it as truth? What if they claim that G-d gave them the truth and that their ways are the real path?"

If any people will tell you with consistency that a significant portion of their nation witnessed G-d speaking to them, believe them. We're not talking here about a legend about one hero who slew a monster. Or a wise man who heard an angel in a cave. We're talking about an account that states how a nation experienced its history.

In fact, many such legends are true. Just because anthropologists don't think they can get grants for proving native history as authentic doesn't affect history. 19th century historians offhandedly assumed Homer's account of the Trojan War to be a fable, until Heinrich Schliemann went and dug up the evidence. Now the Iliad is looked to as a source of historical data. Anthropologists discounted the legends of the Hopi People of Arizona that described how some of them had travelled to a northern land of rock and ice -- until very recently a lone researcher found the unmistakable traces of their journeys in the frozen north. If a people are telling you something about their origins or their history, listen up. This is important data to them, and it is generally accurately preserved.

Nevertheless, nobody ever really thought of these legends as historical fact. Until recently, most peoples never even had any concept of historical fact. Aside from the ancestral history mentioned above, they told stories to build common identity and entertain the family around a bonfire at night. Stories that happened in mythical time, long, long ago in a land far away. Back to the Hopi, for instance: They tell a story of how they originated in the bottom world of three worlds that reside below this one. When? How did they get there? That is irrelevant to the story. This part of their story reads not like history, but as a metaphor. The proof is that nobody ever asks those questions.

The Bible is unique among documents of its time in this regard. Egyptian Hieroglyphics are not history but fabulous propaganda. Even Homer was not intending to write a history, but a drama full of metaphor. From reading these things, you have no sense of real time, change and progress. The Bible, on the other hand, tells a story where there is a beginning, a middle and a result. Its narrative is within a context of definite time and space, with precision of names, quantities, dates, because those events are of themselves vitally important. In a fable, for example, you don't give precise measurements for a tabernacle that will never be built again, or the exact details about a one-time ceremony to inaugurate it. When telling history, you do.

But I still contend that if a nation tells you that G-d spoke to all of them at once, and they all give the same version, you should believe them. However, search the globe and you will find only one such story. Why? Isn't that a great way for the spiritual leadership to get their flock in line? I mean, there's only so far that you can go telling the masses a story about a single individual who had a dialogue with an angel. Or a small group that heard a divine voice. Wouldn't it be so much more powerful to tell them that everyone eye-witnessed the event?

Sure it would. Problem is, as we explained, nobody could ever pull that off. It couldn't even gradually evolve over the centuries. Because it's a conspiracy, and conspiracies don't work.

The very fact that no other people ever made up anything similar to the story of Sinai should be enough evidence that it must be true.

Choose Your World

In case you are planning to use the above as debate material, everything I've told you is useless. No matter what arguments you give, don't expect to convince those entrenched in a materialist reductionist view of reality. Our world is not their world. Our world is a world into which the Infinite may enter, and Sinai is a space where the Essence of that world is heard. Our Sinai cannot enter their world -- you must choose between the two, but you cannot keep both.

So here is my point: To accept Sinai is to reject absolutely the concept that there is a world and there is a G-d, and that the two exist as distinct entities. But those who live in a world that is so real the infinite cannot enter, the Divine must hover beyond -- they are left to accept the absurdity of conspiracy in its most implausible form.

When G-d created all things, He made two versions for you to choose from. He created, and the earth was chaos and empty -- an absurd world where light cannot enter. And He created a heaven and earth of "Let there be light." A world of wonder, a place for the Infinite to dwell.

You choose in which you wish to live.

For a follow up to this article, see Is there an independent source that can verify the events recounted in the Torah?

FOOTNOTES
1. For lots of fun with conspiracies, see The World's Weirdest/Stupidest Conspiracy Theories Here are the links posted in the original article, which have unfortunately by now gone defunct: http://www.conspiracy-net.com/archives/conspiracy.shtml and http://members.tripod.com/~Ceithern/index.html . And an automated conspiracy generator at http://www.westword.com/extra/conspire.html
2. Actually, there are also stylistic arguments: Biblical critics find different parts of the Pentateuch to be written in differing styles with apparently different world-views. Such a method of examination, however, can hardly be called science. don't take my word for it -- try it yourself: There are articles scattered throughout the Net with the name Tzvi Freeman attached to them. Do a search, then examine the articles and determine how many Tzvi Freemans there are. Were the articles for Game Developer Magazine written in the same style as Bringing Heaven Down To Earth? How about the Heaven Exposed Series? There have even been wild claims that some of these were written by myself, the Guadalajara Rebbe!
3. Thomas Kuhn was a nice Jewish boy who wrote perhaps the most significant book on the history of science in the 20th century, On the Structure of Scientific Revolution. Significant, because it made it cool to use the term paradigm shift, especially on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Basically, his work looks at science's ways of explaining things as a tool rather than a truth. When one approach to science turns out to be insufficient to explain the data, or to accommodate the world-view of the scientists, a new paradigm is sought. Neither paradigm, however, whether it be Aristotle's or Newton's or Einstein's, is necessarily closer to the underlying truth. This view has been used to dismiss apparent conflicts between theology and science
4. Also, once a document has been ratified by two witnesses in a Jewish court, everything in that document is taken as fact. Taking this as a paradigm for defining past reality, we can understand how the classic rabbis discuss varying versions of past events, while agreeing that all versions are Torah. Why should there be only a single version of time? As long as the version is supported by the text, it has all the elements of reality. By way of analogy, this would be the same as two judges hearing the same evidence, reconstructing the scene in differing ways. Within our paradigm, neither construction is less reality than the other. It could even be proposed that once a Torah sage discovers a new way of understanding the text, as long as that interpretation is consistent with the traditional rules of exegesis, he has brought a new past reality into being.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (419)
August 20, 2014
Halalah, I miss my homeland Houston very much! I relocated three years ago to California. Yes, if only we had a snapshot of Sinai. I like the idea of that 'one infinite moment in time.' I have always wondered if Sinai would come again with new and continued Commandments. The thought sets me off to dreaming.
suzy hander
woodland hills, ca
August 20, 2014
Anonymous (to Reuven)
Thank you for your response. But as warm and fuzzy as it sounds, it obscures the truth, which is that there are things in Torah such as "not observing Shabbat in its entirety one single time is a capital offense". What am I to make of this? As Christopher Hitchens once said, I am "reducing the piety in the room".
Anonymous
August 20, 2014
Anonymous: This Might Help
.When I reconnected with Judaism some 20 years ago -I was told something by my Rabbi that I still use today, and that I find very helpful. And that is, to do only those Mitsvot that I can innerly connect with. What I feel comfortable doing. What feels right for me , and what I feel inside -that I am able and willing to do.
I have a feeling you are very concerned about quantity, and the answer to your question is on the quality side.
So I would suggest doing what you feel naturally comfortable with -no matter how "little" it may be- and then, when you feel you want to -seeing if you want to move on from there.
PD: The Rabbi Nachman from Breslev said something very wise and beautiful about this: " גם מעט זה טוב" ( Gam Meat Ze Tov= Also A Little -Is Good!)
In my opinion, you could get started, enjoy whichever mitsva you choose to do -and when you feel it's the right moment- move up from there.

Regarding the mitsvot you feel guilty about for not doing them -first of all remember Rabbi Nachman: "Gam Meat Ze Tov". Second -try to learn about the mitsva. Its' inner meaning, why it's done. Maybe, if you connect with that , it'll be easier for you to do it -If And When- That Feels Right.
Reuven
August 19, 2014
(continuation of post) What I learned from "Is the Midrash for Real" part 2 is that "A Biblical text doesn't depart from its simple meaning"--- except when it does, when it doesn't make sense, when it is using a figure of speech, or when it contradicts another traditional source. As to the Midrash, where early Rabbis felt the need to build fantastical stories on already fantastical stories in the text, If we take these literally, we are fools, and if we think the Rabbis meant them literally, we are bigger fools. These are meant to teach us things, but what we can't be sure, since the meanings are secret! It seems to me that things are a lot simpler, clearer, and more rational if we regard the Torah as NOT the work of God, but an ancient work patched together over a long period by a number of people from old fables, legends, law, and some history, with contradictions, repetitions, inaccuracies, and including some attitudes which we now regard as morally repugnant.
Murray A. Gewirtz
Brooklyn, NY
August 19, 2014
People who have a strong emotional and social attachment to a set of beliefs will often do all kinds of mental gymnastics in an effort to rationalize and hold on to those beliefs. So it is with otherwise brilliant persons, even geniuses, who desperately cling to irrational religious beliefs. Perhaps you'll counter that I seem to have a strong need to reject religion. Maybe so, but I started out in an Orthodox Jewish family, with a yeshiva education, and rejected it because of intellectual misgivings. I am a "chozer b'sh'eilah." Rabbi Freeman, you quote someone as saying that the Hebrew Bible is the first chronological history of a people written in a linear fashion with a phonetic alphabet. This is simply untrue. Histories were being written in 3,000 B.C.E. in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Hieroglyphs were no longer pictographs at that time, nor was cuneiform. I read "Is the Midrash for Real?" part 2, and this is what I got from it: (to be continued with next post.)
Murray A. Gewirtz
Brooklyn, NY
August 19, 2014
Anonymous (continued, last post)
Tzvi, I read your article on Midrash and it gave a very nice answer to the question of what can and can't be taken literally, and why Torah gives metaphors in the first place. My last post was a response to your previous post with the "try it, you'll like it".

I personally am skeptical that the mitzvahs in Torah specifically are "the proper diet" for every Jew. When someone does the mitzvahs and it works out, we say "Torah really is divine". When the mitzvahs don't work out, we say "he didn't really do them with joy or the right intent." I think we can do this with just about anything.

Having said that, I think there are many good things to learn from Torah. Certainly the most basic commandments like not to lie or steal are good, and the family values and respect for others is good, in addition to the benefits of being part of a strong community. I also personally enjoy Sukkot, Passover, and many other holidays.
Anonymous
August 19, 2014
Still responding to some anonymous guy…
1. Both.

2. Thank you for reading the article on midrash.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
mychabad.org
August 19, 2014
I have many reservations -as you can see- regarding institutionalized religion -mainly- because they always make an answer "pop-up" from somewhere. They'll rely on the Written Torah, and when that doesn't work -they'll do it on the Oral one -and when that doesn't work they'll quote some Sage, that said something like what they want to prove. So no matter where you're comming from -they'll always find a way to evade your arguments, and "pull out of their sleeves", the answer that always fits what they want you to think\believe.

Having said this, I must say that Religion -and Chasidut in particular -are eccellent roads for self-discovery and self-realization. And IF you use them wisely (like we should use any other useful and powerful tool) -they can inmensely Elevate You Spiritually, and bring enormous Well Being and Happiness into your life. As I mentioned before, you'll be able to literally "make miracles" happen in your life.

So eventhough I have some reservations about those who cling to their pre-conceived intellectual conceptions because they're too afraid "to look at life straight into the eyes" -beyond that- we musn't "throw away the baby with the water".

Chasidut has Very Much to offer. We need though to retain our ability for intellectual integrity -and not automatically "swallow" everything they tell us. Combining a Deep and Honest desire to become closer to G-d, together with intellectual honesty (wee need to be careful of the intellect too, because eventhough it might not know\believe it -miracles DO Happen), with Chasidut, the sky (literally) -Is The Limit.
Reuven
Israel
August 19, 2014
To Annonymous: I Totally Agree.
I like option 4 -as you defined it:
4)Torah is true, but not literally and not all meant to be taken literally".

But be careful because some Rabbi's will say: "The Torah is true, not literally, don't take it literally -and take it literally (too)!!

Here In Israel we call that: "Walking around Without It -and wanting to feel you're walking With It". OR: "Eating your cake -and wanting it to remain whole".
They get so tangled up in their contradictions and attempts to justify what cannot be justified -that they shoot in all directions -hoping some "bullet" will cling somehow -on to something, or on to someone.

Sorry -see no sense in throwing myself into that. Done it for many years, and feel that -if you're intellectually Honest and if you have Intellectual Integrity- you Have To Admit the Torah is very much metaphor -Not to be taken literally.
Reuven
Israel
August 19, 2014
Between Midrash and Mitzvah.
Mitzvah happens with or without religion. It is part of our inherent blue print.

Metaphors, personifications were a form of communication throughout the ancient world. Question is, if, as is claimed by the priesthood, Torah was given by G-d, why is Midrash to fill in the gaps?

The gaps were filled in soo creative, it gave us a dead Jew on a stick, historically never born, a last prophet, while the essence relates to ancestral bodies such as the Sun; Andromeda, Ptolemy in his Theory called, The Cruxified One.

Rabbi Freeman, if some entity, a Higher Intelligence -Gd, per religious claim- created this planet, why would this Superior Energy forget 613 mitzvoth, wait for Moshe and Sinai, and within 3300yrs of passing this on, Earth, - its sublime creation - is on the brink of a gruesome destruction? Something isn't kosher. Who, what are you really submissive to?

How religion deformed ancient knowledge, to such degree that the priesthood has forgotten the humane in humanity? Mitzvah.
L R
NY
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