Based on Chaim L’Or HaTorah:
Parashas V’Eschanan, Chumash Devarim
This Will Never Happen Again
Based on Permission to Receive by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen
by Braha Bender
Palmyra, New York is a great place to start a religion.
Luckily, one fine afternoon in 1827 while Joseph Smith was walking alone through the hills in Palmyra, the angel Moroni descended from heaven to give Smith a pair of golden plates with the word of God inscribed in Reformed Egyptian. Nobody had ever heard of Reformed Egyptian, and no evidence has been found for its existence since then.
But that’s okay – Joseph Smith wouldn’t lie, right?
Anyway, after translating the plates into English, Joseph Smith was commanded to destroy the tablets, so nobody actually got to see them. Conveniently, though, Smith’s prophecy encouraged special relationships with any woman he took a hankering after. Smith died in a mob led by several men who had discovered the prophet acting upon his religious notions with their wives. What can I tell you? He was a martyr for his cause. And that’s Mormonism.
But Joseph Smith wasn’t the first one to claim solo divine inspiration. Paul was travelling the lonely road to Damascus about 31-36 CE when Jesus appeared like a pop-up on a computer screen. Sure, Jesus had been dead for over thirty years, but luckily the resurrection had just taken place and son of a gun if Jesus wasn’t going to tell Paul all about it!
Even better, Paul’s revelation claimed that way back when, plenty of random folks had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Paul said he fed multitudes! Unfortunately, nobody knew who all these witnesses were. In fact, nobody had ever heard of them before. Because the so-called multitudes were not identified, and were never identified in any Christian canon, these claims could never be checked. Paul was the only one to “see” or “hear” his revelation. Just one guy on a long, dusty Middle-Eastern byway.
But that’s okay – Paul wouldn’t just make up a story like that, would he? Paul hurried on to Damascus to spread the word. And that was the beginning of Christianity. (Remember the inquisition, the crusades, the expulsions, and the pogroms? Thanks a lot, Paul.)
One-man revelations are fairly popular. Some of the more famous religions started in the fashion include Mohammad’s Islam, Siddhartha Gautama’s Buddhism, and L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology.
Funny thing is, it’s a little inconvenient to start a religion with just one person. This is a situation where bigger is definitely better. Three, four, or even a dozen revelation-witnesses lend a credibility that one-man revelations can never have.
So why aren’t there any religions, cults, mystical groups, or anything that claim revelation to more than one or two people? Well, you can’t say that they haven’t given it the old college try.
Problem is, every time three or more buddies have conspired to claim mass revelation, one of them snitched. The conspiracy blew up in their faces, as conspiracies are so vexingly wont to do. It’s pretty pathetic. In fact, none of them were even successful enough to make it on to Wikipedia.
Now, just to get perspective, even the endangered Satinleaf tree of Florida has its own Wikipedia page. Edward Cullen has his own Wikipedia page, and he’s imaginary! Religions that tried to get off the ground by claiming revelation to a group of people didn’t even get that far.
Oh, except one.
The Sinai Event
There’s one religion that claims that about 3,000,000 people, including about 1,200,000 people between the ages twenty to sixty, all heard the Almighty say the exact same words at the exact same time. The group of people are identified as every single Jew alive in 1312 BCE. Which ones? The ones who had just left Egypt. Where? In the Sinai desert on a mountain you can visit to this day. Google it.
Unlike Paul’s claim or Joseph Smith’s claim, the Jew’s claim involves a very specific group of people, a very large group of people, and one big, fat, uniform revelation.
It’s a pretty audacious claim.
In fact, it’s such an audacious claim that Christianity, Islam, and all the sects and break-offs of these monoliths co-opt the claim as their own foundation. Everyone claims that the entire Jewish nation heard God speak at Mount Sinai. But did the Sinai event really happen?
In one religions class at Drake University, Iowa, the Sinai event was explained thusly: “It makes too much sense to be true.”
For ask now regarding the early days that were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of the heavens to the other end of the heavens, whether there was anything like this great thing, or was the likes of it heard? Did ever a people hear God's voice speaking out of the midst of the fire as you have heard, and live? (Devarim-Deuteronomy 4:32-33)
Really? It makes too much sense to be true? Does that specious logic apply to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson? It just makes too much sense, and we’ve never heard of such a thing before – must be bogus!
Of course, such an argument is ridiculous. The Sinai event is little disputed because there isn’t much to dispute. No historian has ever found evidence that the Sinai event was a fabrication or conspiracy. For better or for worse, it seems to have happened. Every Jew alive in 1312 BCE really did hear God speak.
The reason we have a hard time believing this is not because the facts don’t add up – it so happens that they do – but because such an event is so totally outside our frame of reference. And small wonder – it only happened once.
The real question is, now what?
Would That Their Hearts Be Like This…
You have been shown, in order to know that Hashem, He is God; there is none else besides Him… And you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that Hashem, He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else. And you shall observe His statutes and His commandments, which I command you this day… (ibid 35-40)
That’s what. Integrity is its own reward. The door prize for figuring out the truth is that now you get to live it.
But more importantly:
Would that their hearts be like this, to recognize Me and to keep all My commandments all the days, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! (ibid 5:26)
Torah is not just intellectual and practical, it’s personal. When you’re real with Him, He is real with you. And He wants to be real with you. What does that feel like?
Imagine the most beautiful moment of insight you have ever experienced. The moment when you finally figured it out – the problem, the question, the relationship, the issue. Remember when everything suddenly clicked?
It felt like you got wings. Things were not as they had seemed. You were empowered. You were inspired. Do you remember the satisfaction and the excitement? Do you remember that sense of coming home, like the key finally fit the lock and you could get inside your own self?
Wisdom is not just information. Real wisdom is energy. When you’ve got wisdom and you’re living up to it, you feel fully alive. It’s the best feeling in the world. Imagine having that on tap 24-7. That’s Torah. That’s an authentic relationship with God.
There really is nothing like it.