This is an edited transcript of a tape of a lecture provided by the Aish Hatorah Audio Center. We have smoothed it out for written publication, but have not removed the sound and feel of the talk on which it is based. That is how most of his many talmidim remember HaRav Weinberg, zt"l. It was originally published in 2000, and explains a basic approach to the events of Shavuos.
HaRav Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l
Part I concluded by noting that the Jews make some very unique claims about the Torah:
* - that G-d spoke to all of them in a way that you can't lie about;
* - that Moses is a true prophet;
* - He gives them a Chumash which shakes them up and makes them believe;
* - They have to swallow their pride to believe all that it says; but
* - it makes demands on them of extraordinary power; and then
* - promises them nothing other than opportunities. No guarantees, no certainty. And then
* - it tells them to learn, study, think.
None of these things is duplicated elsewhere.
Doesn't it require some sort of explanation? Is it really all pure coincidence?
Let's take it a little further. Do you honestly believe that a human being will write a law that is inherently impossible to keep?
For example, every seventh year, take your family and starve to death. Every seventh year, you cannot work on the land at all. No plowing, no sowing, no harvesting — just sit home and study and learn. And every 49th and 50th year, there are two years in a row of no planting and no growing. Who is going to be alive by the end of the 50th year? Why would a man make such a ridiculous law?
But then he (this supposed human author of the Bible) goes further. He says that a year in advance he will give you a double crop, so you don't have to worry. Who talks like that? He guarantees a double crop every sixth year to a whole people. The first time it comes around they will see you are a liar. Why would he do such a thing? Does it make sense?
Is there such a law anywhere, a law that will expose itself as being absurd on the very first attempt to keep it? How could there be such a law?
I will give you another example. Three times a year, every year, all of you come up to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But wait a minute. The Moabites are waiting in the east to wipe us out. The Yemenites are waiting in the south to wipe us out. The Philistines are waiting in the west to wipe us out. How can I come up?
Don't worry, I will take care of it. While you are in Jerusalem visiting Me, I will see to it that nothing happens to your land, to your crops, to your home. Leave it to Me.
Who talks like that? I can hear G-d talking like that, but can you hear a human being talking like that? Do you expect them to come a second time? Who would give his own people such a law, to give the enemies who are waiting to destroy them such an opportunity? Can a reasonable person accept that a human being wrote that book?
If G-d wrote it, then it makes sense. He can guarantee that nothing is going to happen.
Another point: This book has prophecy. It describes in detail what will overtake the people of Israel when they leave G-d. It has happened in all its vivid, incredible details.
He said you will come back to Eretz Yisroel and he said you will be thrown out again. He said that much, much later you will come back again — can we call that a self-fulfilling prophecy, after 2000 years? Do you know a nation that didn't give up after 100 years, 200, 300 years?
Our tradition is that the nations of the world will have to approve it. At the same time they hate us, they don't want to ok it. So what happens? If you read anything about the vote in the United Nations approving a part of Eretz Yisroel for the Jewish people, you know the incredible concatenation of events that brought the Russians and the Americans to vote for it in spite of everybody fighting against it. They fell in, they couldn't help themselves, they voted. They wished they hadn't and then they tried to get out of it but it was too late. They are stuck with the State of Israel.
But we knew for 2000 years that it would be that way.
Is there another people who survived without a language, without a land, without a common culture for 2000 years? You know another case? And we were told in advance what would happen. We were told that we would be dispersed and punished. It was written 3000 years ago.
What other nation was dispersed to all the corners of the earth and retained its identity? Did it ever happen?
So I say to you as follows. How do we explain that reasonable people, people who are intelligent, face this array of facts and doubt that G-d spoke to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. How can you explain it? How can a reasonable person possibly doubt this straightforward story given over through the ages, generation after generation without flaw?
A straightforward story: G-d came and told us that Moses is His prophet. No other people tell lies, why would we? No other people make it up, why should we? Explain it away. Why isn't it true? Why are intelligent, reasonable people still prepared to doubt so clear and sharp a story, backed by such enormous weight of evidence, the kind of evidence that you would risk your life on without a moment's hesitation if it wasn't a question of religion? Why?
Why, all of a sudden, do they make conditions of proof so rigorous when it comes to accepting the reality of G-d's speaking to us, that no one applies to any other question?
Why? The answer has to be: because they do not like the consequences.
A fantastic story happened to me. In Baltimore, in the 1970s, there was a group of Jewish psychiatrists, not religious. They formed a social club. The members and their spouses would get together at the home of one of the members every month. The host was responsible for providing a cultural program. Once I was invited to speak and, about fifteen minutes into it, one of them got up and said, "Rabbi, I want you to stop talking."
There is no way that I can describe to you the shock his objection caused me. It is just not done. I was shocked.
He continued, "Rabbi, if you keep talking I am going to have to change the way I live and I like the way I live."
The others said to continue. I did a foolish thing and continued. He got up and walked to the door, got his coat and left. His left his wife there. He went out without her. He really did not want to listen.
After I finished I went over to her and asked her for her name, but she refused to give it to me. I asked the host if he would tell me their name. He also refused. I was never able to find out. I would have loved to speak to him.
The fact is that he was one of the few who is straightforward and honest enough to say, "I don't want to hear it, it upsets my way of living." The rest manage to listen and somehow or other let it fly by without letting it settle in.
Because it means that they must change their way of living. Because if G-d is, if this is real, it is earth-shattering. It means that everything they believe has to be reexamined and everything has to be reassessed. How much easier to say "maybe."
The Russians, during the Cold War, told us that they are peace-loving and we were warmongering. We start thinking, maybe.
They call Israelis imperialistic, expansion-minded. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't know that if the Arabs don't attack Israel that not one Arab will be hurt, that not one inch of land will be annexed? Is there anyone who doubts that if they had never attacked the Israelis, and had never threatened to attack them, no attempt would ever have been made to take one inch of Arab land? Is there anybody who doubts it?
But Israel is said to be imperialistic. If you want to believe it, you can persuade yourself of anything. Anything goes.
Once upon a time they thought that the story of the Emperor who had no clothes was a remarkable story. We do it all the time. We don't need a reason to be fooled because we really fool ourselves. We persuade ourselves that night is day and day is night — when it suits our purposes.
There are some people who believe that the Arabs are as innocent as the Israelis. Facts will never be permitted to disturb them. That is one thing that you won't catch them on, a pure ordinary fact. The facts will have to look out for themselves. That's the way we are.
We need an enormous, determination to be prepared to see the truth regardless of its consequences. But those who have it are going to find it hard to push away what the Jews stand for in the history of mankind. They are going to find it rough to explain it in any way other than that G-d was there and made a covenant with us and we entered that covenant.
A Jew cannot escape it. It determines who he is. It determines what he is. It determines what will be with him, it determines where he goes and what happens to him. His destiny is a part of the people with whom the covenant was made. It is his fate, his ultimate being.
There is no way we can escape it, there is no way we can get out of it, there is no way that we can lose our awareness and consciousness of it.
So I say to you: you all know you are Jewish, what makes you Jewish? What do you share with each other and with all the other Jews in the world? Do you share history with them, with the Indian Jew, the Syrian Jew, the Yemenite Jew, the Ethiopian Jew? Do you share with them a culture, a race, a language? What do you share with all the rest of the Jews around the world which makes you say that we are all Jewish?
Why are we all Jewish? What do we share? A religion? Can you tell me that a secular Jew shares religion with an Orthodox Jew? A Reform Jew shares the same religion as any traditional Jew?
What makes us all Jews other than the covenant? We all have a covenant with G-d which we all cannot escape. What else do we share? Not practices, not thinking, not looks, not race, not culture. We share the covenant. We are one. The only thing that makes us one is the covenant.
Is it a covenant that never happened? Did a covenant that never took place make us one for all the ages, with all of the vicissitudes that have taken us to all different places, and all the different experiences we have had and all the different ways of thinking and different styles of living? Could a covenant that never happened enable us to stay together and to identify with each other and to be one?
Could it really be that a covenant that never happened made us a people? And a people that survived what no other people in the history of mankind have ever lived through. But we more than lived through it: we had an impact and influence on the development of all of mankind to a degree and extent that much larger nations have not. This people of the "covenant that doesn't exist" and were almost constantly persecuted and driven, yet they changed the morals and ethics and purposes and direction of all humanity.
We taught them that the noblest of all human beings is not the best killer. So many of the other nations of the earth idolized the hero who was the most superb killer of all. Who taught them that this is not the ultimate hero of mankind? Was it not the Jew? Who taught them that there was a responsibility that people owe to other human beings? Was it not the Jew who taught them the concept of justice?
This handful of noncovenental people with a commitment for which they died rather all too often — you want to suggest that this commitment was something that never happened? You would rather accept this incredible miracle than the miracle that G-d spoke to the people at Sinai, that doesn't make sense? Why not? What do you have against it?
Let me end with this miracle. This miracle is that when G-d spoke to the Jews at Mount Sinai he said to them: this is the only revelation I make. Once My revelation is complete, the duties, responsibilities, and obligations are yours. Never again will I interfere. Use this truth which I teach you and I give you the full responsibility for its development and application. Never again will I ever send to you a message through a prophet regarding the principles of the Torah that I give you.
In giving you a Torah, I give you your freedom and responsibility. I will not inspire your teaching; I will not direct it. You will be responsible for this Torah all by yourself. And each one of you can be a learned rabbi. If, G- d forbid, you don't make the effort, you have to go to one who did. Ideally each one of you should and can be a learned rabbi who knows the Torah that I teach and applies it and takes responsibility for it. Never will I send a prophet with a message about this Torah.
That, I submit, is the greatest, most incredible miracle of all. A miracle only G-d can do. All human beings continue to inspire, to get messages. Only G-d gives it to men and says: it is now yours. Do not look to Me for guidance. I gave you the knowledge; I gave you the promise; I gave you the truth. Use it. That is the deepest, most amazing miracle of all. Live with that and tell me it wasn't G-d.