Proving Sinai: Circular Reasoning?
Reader: I was intrigued by Rabbi Chait's article proving the validity of the Torah based on mass revelation. In trying to understand the proof of Rabbi Chait, I was confused on a few points. Firstly, how do we know that 600,000 people saw the event? The logic for that fact seems circular- we trust the document as a historical fact because so many people witnessed an event in it, yet the very proof in how we know so many people saw the event, is from the document itself! Is it possible that Moses claimed 600,000 people saw an event and exaggerated the number? (Not that the claim is completely false). Secondly, I am troubled by the fact that the revelation is in no way a "clear" representation of God. At best it resembles a volcano, or some sort of primitive speaker system. Is it possible that Moses was able to induce a volcano, or use echo to put on an impressive display that the people believed was God? Thirdly, (and most basically) if this is such an undeniable fact, why does most of the world not accept the revelation as fact? Thanks for your time, ES
Mesora: Let us define “circular reasoning”: a person claiming his diploma to be authentic, and affords but one proof: his diploma. Here, the “proof” is equal to the object he attempts to prove. To validate his diploma, records must be found at the institution of his claimed attendance, or similar, external proof. By definition, when one wishes to validate anything, the validation must be external to that which one desires to validate. For example, if one tells airport security to accept his word that he is who he says he is, that would be circular as well. A passport proves an identity. The passport is external to the person, and is a valid proof.
What about history? How can we prove it? If one wishes to use the very recorded story as a proof, it would appear this too is circular reasoning. However, there is one major difference: the verification of any historical account - is in fact the account! I will explain. Provided the account is universally identical, accepted by masses, and describes intelligible phenomena, the story must be true. There is no possible means by which a universally identical history would arrive in our hands today, had these factors not been present at the time of that event at hand. Form example, one could not successfully convince others of explosions on the George Washington Bridge at rush hour, unless they actually occurred. Too many witnesses would deny a fabrication, and no one but the perpetrator would promote the fallacy. The story would never succeed, and certainly, not be recorded in history.
History is the one thing that derives its validation from its very existence, provided all mentioned factors form part of the story. This is why Sinai is not circular reasoning, and its very existence is its proof. We learn that “circular reasoning”, like all other concepts, must be defined, and when it is, all errors are removed. We thereby know that 600,000 (men above 20 – approx. 2 million total) witnesses attended Sinai.
Your second question is how do we know that it was G-d who was responsible for the event. The story records that the people heard the “sound of words” emanating from the fire. Well, what causes intelligent sounds, i.e., words? We know that on Earth, man alone speaks. But man cannot coexist in fire, let alone, speak intelligent words. Therefore, what caused these words cannot be a biological organism, as such a creature would perish, and certainly, the creature would be seen. But the story also records that “…no form did you see, only a voice.”
I will quote a few sources to show how clearly the people understood this: In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls that event: (4:12) "And God spoke to you from inside the fire, a voice of words did you hear, and no form did you see, only a voice", (4:16) " And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire", (4:33) "Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as you have?" (4:36) "From the heavens He made heard His voice to train you, and on Earth He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard from inside the fire", (5:4) "Face to face, God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire", (5:19) "These matters God spoke to your entire assembly on the mountain from inside the fire...", (5:21) "...and you said 'and His voice we heard from inside the fire'...", (5:23) "For who of all flesh has heard the voice of the living God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as us?", (9:10) "And God gave to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and upon them, as all the words that God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire on the day of the assembly."
The One who created the laws governing fire, i.e., the Creator, must be responsible for this event, and he alone possesses the ability to talk from amidst flames.
Your final question was why, if so evidently true, does most of the world not accept this event. But isn’t the reverse in fact what we see? Even other religions have held onto our Torah containing this event, unedited. Although they sin by adding onto G-d’s words, they are bound by historical proof, and do not alter this account, or others. Their promulgation of our Torah evidences the undeniable nature of the events contained in the Torah.
Sinai, and all events in the Torah have successfully been transmitted, as they actually happened. This reality should be so amazing to our minds. We should be excited to discover what ideas the Creator of the universe desires to impart to us in the rest of His Torah!