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Sinai and Contemporary Society
This is the first chapter in Scott Shore's book in progress, which argues why the Torah at Sinai is the only universally acceptable basis for restoring values and providing a basis for creating a conservatism for the 21st century.
Chapter One: Sinai and Contemporary Society
In all human history, one event has shaped the destiny of the world and established the framework for a truly human civilization. That event is unparalleled in the annals of humanity* and took place in a barren desert before a nation of three million eyewitnesses.* On this date, the entire earth rumbled; thunder and dark clouds hovered over Mount Sinai as the nation of Israel was born. In a phenomenon incomparable to any other religious tradition,* the very Creator of the Universe spoke directly to an entire nation of three million souls, and through that nation sent His instructions for living for all nations! Thus, the birth of the Jewish nation witnessed the birth of political, social, moral and ethical Truths. Mankind was given not only the gift of Eternal Truths, but also the direction of humanity’s very perfection.
This book is designed to illuminate the moral confusion that has poisoned the political discourse since the eighteenth century and to restore a Sense of Eternal Values and a Moral Order into twenty-first century politics. One may describe it as a call for the restoration of values or simply a return of Humility and Human Responsibility into the public arena. This is a manifesto for conservatism in the twenty-first century. Conservatism is that set of ideas or philosophy that upholds and advances those perennial or eternal values that are necessary to establish an ordered and free society.
As I proceed, I shall demonstrate the uniqueness of the Sinai Encounter. The critical fact about Sinai is that it is not the vision of a single prophet, or the workings of miracles with no identified witnesses, or even the great illumination of a sage. Sinai is a chapter in human history. It is a chapter with named and identified eyewitnesses. More impressive, not only was the Revelation given to Israel through Moses seen by an entire nation, but the history and the essence of the Revelation has been passed down by the leaders of each successive generation. These leaders are named and the Transmission is literally an unbroken chain for three thousand years.
It is not the intention of this book to convert anyone to Judaism. Although the first section begins and ends with a religious premise, I am not writing a primarily religious book. Further, along the way, you may encounter arguments or issues which may conflict with values or beliefs you may have held uncritically for years. As you read this, I ask you to suspend temporarily your natural and healthy sense of disbelief or skepticism. Try to accept my premise for a short while, for just as no wine can be poured into a full cup, no wisdom can be gained by a closed mind. Trust for the moment that I shall build a solid foundation for my assertion so that you and I, author and reader can enter into a fruitful exchange.
One might reasonably ask: Should not a discussion of Sinai or religion be preceded by a philosophical discourse on the existence, reality or relevance of G-d to the Universe? Philosophical discourses on the existence or “meaning” of G-d have gone on throughout the ages. These debates lead to endless speculations and tautologies. One can not base a philosophy which can neither be proven nor disproven by the limits of the human mind. The only thing we can say for certain is that every major religion, starting with Judaism, then Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, or Bahai all seems to agree with the Divine Encounter between G-d, Moses and the People of Israel. The reason for this agreement is that, unlike speculative belief, it is based upon historical record. Facts, including historical facts, are stubborn things. They can not be wished away by wishful skeptics or secularists.
Facts can also not be wished away by various religions. While this book has some areas of disagreement. All affirm Moses as a prophet and all affirm his revelation at Sinai. The conflict is described by Lawrence Keleman in his book Permission to Receive:
“For all these (monotheistic) religions, the Torah is a Divine Document. The point of discord is whether Moses’ revelation was superseded by later prophecies, and if it was, how many times.
Does the text of
the one prophecy that all monotheists acknowledge—the Torah—indicated
how many times, if at all, G-d would update mankind’s assignment?
On the contrary, twenty-three times the Torah states, ‘This is an
eternal law for all generations’* and toward its conclusion Moses
writes that the Torah applies ‘to us and to our children forever’*
The one universally accepted prophet, Moses, unequivocally proclaims throughout
his Five Books, twenty-four times that G-d would never nullify the plan
handed over to Israel*”
The point of this discussion is not to argue about the many religious faiths. The point is to find Common Ground for all peoples. The Torah is perhaps unique in that it does not require all people to follow all its laws and regulations. It provides a specific service to the Children of Israel who witnessed the Revelation. It makes the Children of Israel into a “light unto the nations.” * Those nations and peoples who do not follow Judaism are not cast into eternal hellfire. On the contrary, “ the righteous of all the nations have a place in the World to Come.”* The Torah does, however, require all peoples to follow a Universal Code of Ethics, which is sometimes referred to as the “Seven Noahide Laws.”
These laws are quite fundamental. They forbid blasphemy, idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, and cruelty toward living creatures. Further, it mandates the creation of courts of law and the fair administration of justice. Each of these laws have myriad subcategories and implications which all lead to the creation of a just society. Those who uphold these laws are G-d fearing and good in the eyes of the Torah. Those who delve into the deeper realms of these laws and surpass them are called the truly pious among the nations. If the reader can accept a set of absolute and universal rules of ethics and morals that are eternal and apply to all people, then we can begin to build a set of political values or a philosophy to conserve those values. We can then begin the business of establishing conservatism for all mankind. To those who believe other faiths, this book is not intended to diminish or degrade yours. Rather, it is a Bridge whereby all people who yearn for a world of Moral Order and true Human Happiness can speak a common language. Later chapters will contain more in depth discussion about the Seven Noahide Laws and their little known history in Western civilization.
It is the position of this book that the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt and the Revelation of G-d to the Jewish people are equally a fact of history.* It is not merely the religious vision of a few followers. It is the indisputable history of a nation, a history that has been handed down from generation to generation.* The Jewish sage, Yehudah haLevi in his famous and holy book, The Kuzari, discusses this point at length:
“The Rabbi writes,”1.The faith of the Jewish people is based on eyewitness testimony and requires neither proof nor demonstration. 2. In his opening remarks to Pharaoh (the Egyptian king and enslaver of the Jews), Moses told him, “The G-d of the Hebrews sent me to you (Exodus 7:16)” referring to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses used this description of G-d because the Patriarchs were well known to the nations of the world. They acknowledged that the Divine Spirit clung to the Patriarchs, that they were guided by G-d, and He performed miracles for them.
Moses did not say to Pharaoh, “The G-d of heaven and earth sent me” or “My Creator and your Creator sent me,” for Pharaoh would have denied Divine Creation. God also revealed Himself to the Jewish people at Sinai in the same manner, saying,” I am Adon-y, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:2).” He did not introduce Himself by saying,”I am Adon-y, your G-d, who created the world and yourselves.” G-d’s taking them out of Egypt was an indisputable fact. The Divine Revelation was also an indisputable truth, which they personally witnesses and experienced.”
The Kuzari then makes what appears to be a rather stunning jump in logic. While the Revelation was clear to the people as a historical reality, the question is “What was the meaning of much of the Written Torah?” What does it mean “to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy”? How does one carry out such a commandment? If one is forbidden to be a “tale-bearer” we must define “tale-bearer” so as to distinguish malicious gossip and meaningful discussion. Is it acceptable to speak ill of others even if it is true, or are there conditions? The Written Torah outlines many commandments in the pursuit of holiness, but it is far from clear as to how to fulfill these commandments. It would be clearly absurd for G-d to communicate to Israel but leave his Message a riddle. It is for this reason that the people went to Moses and later his appointed judges to make clear the meaning of the Message for a living human nation with daily needs and faced with all the complexity of creating a social order. This Oral Tradition is the key to the Written Law. Without the teachings of Moses and the Sages that followed in each generation, the Written Torah would be a perpetual mystery. The explanations of Moses and his appointment of judges after him were essential to the Revelation itself. Therefore The Kuzari concludes:
“Consequently, the unbroken chain of the Oral Law was as valid to them as something, which they had seen with their own eyes.”
For the purposes of this book, we need not belabor the historicity of Sinai. We can leave that to historians, biblical archaeologists, and specialists in this field. What is critical is that both Christianity and Islam believe in the Encounter at Sinai. Without Sinai and the Torah given there, all Western religions become mere fairy tales. We thus have a solid foundation to explore the origins of Absolute Truth.
You may object that I have forgotten the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and many other Eastern religions. Given the growing popularity of these religious ideas in the West, this would be a major oversight. What we know from the Torah is that Abraham married Keturah after the death of Sarah. It is said that his children migrated to the east and spread esoteric knowledge. The mysteries of the esoteric Torah with its concept of One God but many Divine Attributes and the unfathomable concepts of creation ex nihilo through a series of contractions and the creations of “worlds” leading ultimately to our physical universe became known in the east. Many scholars have compared the inexplicable parallels between Esoteric Torah (Kabbalah) and certain Eastern systems. Clearly the development of polytheism (creating autonomous gods out of the attributes of One G-d) is not consistent with clear Revelation of Sinai. The tendency of the East to find fulfillment in the nullification of physical reality is the opposite of the message at Sinai. The G-d of Israel demands that men not escape the physical world but transform the hidden divinity of the world into revealed goodness.
The point I think is clear. We either accept Sinai as history or all religion is fallacy. “The Jew is that sacred being,” says Leo Tolstoy, “who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire, and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions.”
If there is no Absolute Truth, then the vacuum will not be filled by a harmless relativism. In lieu of G-d, each man creates a god in his own image, which idealizes his compelling drives. Money, success, power, sex are all potential values which can be made Absolute. Idolatry is making a relative value an Absolute. The greater power of a “self-centered” view of life over a theocentric orientation should not be underestimated. It is the normal human state to turn desires into “needs” and then into “the Good”. Society and those who aspire to power know what Carl Jung would call the “shadow” side of man. As seen throughout history in Ancient Rome, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or whole regions of the underdeveloped world today, the promise of honor through conquest or pillage has successfully dominated most men most of the time. The State or The Ideology is the new Baal Worship or idolatry of modern man. The silence of great men of virtue is the only condition required. Often the great men are silenced.
Any humble observer of the human condition must shed tears of compassion for all men of greatness, for the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson are surely axiomatic—namely that “To be great is to be misunderstood.” All decent civilization relies upon our making such judgements and even incurring the wrath of the majority. Such is the destiny of all men who concern themselves with great issues. The search for truth is the destruction of illusions and the “merchants of Babylon” were not pleased with the Patriarch Abraham for smashing idols in the shop of his father. Abraham also spoke unbearable “heresies” in the public square. Woe to those who stand opposite of the widely held opinions of humanity. They stand alone isolated like a man on one side of a raging river with the mass of mankind armed on the opposite bank for his destruction with their mouths watering for the collective kill. It is for this reason that the Jews are called Hebrews, for the term Hebrew is derived from “eber” meaning on the other side.
Why is this so? Why must Truth remain isolated across a river? It stands alone facing a humanity that is deaf and yet reviles with unbound passion that which it can not hear or even sees. In the words of the Jewish proverb: “The Truth is burdensome, therefore its bearers are few.” The battle to restore Eternal Values will require struggle and great sacrifice.Send this Article to a Friend