The view from the summit of Mount Sinai.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
In today’s world of “critical thinking,” with everything having to be rational and scientifically proven, many question the veracity of the Sinai story. Is there any proof that a Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai actually occurred? And if not, why should anyone choose to live their lives based on a Bible that some human being authored? I have been asked about this topic in many different forms and forums, and have spent a lot of time thinking about it. After reflecting upon the following facts, there should be only one conclusion: if there is a Creator, and this Power revealed Himself to the world in order to give some sense of direction and instruction to His creations, the only reasonable claim is the Jewish belief that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
There have been hundreds of religions throughout the history of the world. They all claim to have had some kind of godly revelation, an event necessary for their followers to understand that god, their purpose and their responsibilities. Amazingly, every one of these religions begins with the story that a god appeared to one specific individual.
That person then approached other people and related the story of his personal revelation. If and when those people chose to accept the story as truth, a new religion was born.
There is only one religion that tells a different story – Judaism. Our claim is that God revealed Himself to the entire nation – a few million people. He actually taught some laws Himself, and then directed the people to accept everything else that Moses would teach them in His behalf: “Behold I will come to you [Moses] in the thick of the cloud so that the nation will hear when I speak to you, and in you they will trust forever” (Exodus 19:9).
This uniqueness makes the Jewish claim a claim that a reasonable person should consider embracing. Why should any thinking person simply accept the claim made by a fellow human being that God appeared to him and him alone? This is among the reasons that many other faiths only spread through the use of force and by threatening people with their lives. Why else would anyone accept their doctrines? If the story is that God appeared to all the people, that is something worth exploring more deeply and worthy of serious consideration.
Let us suggest, however, that the Torah’s claim that God communicated to the entire nation is false. If a story of this kind can be fabricated, why didn’t anyone else in the history of the world create a similar one? If you were creating your own religion, wouldn’t it be advantageous to claim that the Divine power appeared to more than one person in order to make it more realistic and believable? Wouldn’t there be a greater chance of people throughout the generations embracing the religion if it were based on the word of many people and not just one? Why is Judaism the only religion to even attempt to make the claim that the Divine Power spoke to more than one person? Is it reasonable to suggest that the Jews were the only ones clever enough to recognize that it is advantageous to suggest that more than one person experienced the Divine revelation? The only reasonable conclusion is that it is impossible to make such a claim unless it is true. If one attempts to falsely claim that a revelation occurred in front of many people, it can easily be disproved or contradicted.
That is why no other religion even attempted to make that assertion. Judaism not only claims that God to spoke to more than one person, but it also claims that he spoke to a few million people! All it would have taken was one of those “eyewitnesses” to come forward with the truth, one of those millions of people to deny this made-up event, or for eyewitnesses to relate different details about the supposed revelation, and the foundation of the religion would collapse. This is one strong reason to accept and celebrate the story of the Divine revelation at Sinai.
In addition to this claim, there are many other differences between Judaism and all other religions. The actual content of the Torah lends strength to our story of its Divine origin, for example, in the matter of prophecy. All religious texts include prophecies; however, all of these predictions relate to events which could likely occur through the natural and normal course of history.
Despite this, none of those prophecies have come true before our eyes. The Torah, on the other hand, outlines a seemingly ridiculous prophecy – which has come true in our time! It relates that the Jews will forsake God and will be dispersed to the four corners of the Earth, where they will experience terrible persecution. While they are gone from the Land of Israel it will remain desolate. Nothing will grow there.
But then, at some point, they will return to their land from all around the world and they will regrow and rebuild it. Can one imagine such a prophecy coming true? A small and powerless nation will be dispersed throughout the world without a common spoken language, land or culture, and will survive and return to its homeland thousands of years later? We have seen this unrealistic and ridiculous prophecy come true.
We sinned, were dispersed, were persecuted terribly, the land remained desolate, and we have now returned to Israel from around the world and have built it into a flourishing, fully modernized and technologically advanced country. A human being wrote this thousands of years ago and struck the jackpot and happened to get it right? Is that reasonable? A “ridiculous” prophecy of this kind coming true should strengthen our belief in the divine origin of the Torah and the Revelation at Sinai.
No, we don’t have scientific proof that God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Sinai.
But a reasonable, critically thinking person certainly has enough of a basis to accept, embrace and celebrate the story of God giving the Jewish people the Torah at Sinai.
Thus, on this Shavuot, let us join together and celebrate the event that transformed us into a people, with a body of laws and values aimed at transforming us into a Light unto the Nations who bring spirituality and goodness to the entire world.The writer is a rabbi and a former Yesh Atid MK.