A Clarification of the Words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson OBM, Seventh in the Dynasty of Lubavitcher Rebbes and Leaders of the Chabad Movement.
Before we begin clarifying the issues written about by the Rebbe and gathered by the Chabad staff system in the book “Emunah V’Mada” published in 5737, we should begin with the words of the Rebbe himself in a letter from 5719 (pg. 29 in the book). He writes, “If you want to understand a method, and even more so a world-view, a world-view which encompasses all of life, you must lay aside all preexisting suppositions.” It is clear that he also intends his words for those who observe Torah and commandments.
The holy Rebbe himself encouraged us on the matters of investigation and inquiry, in his letter of 21 Shevat 5716 (pg. 16), “Should you believe with simple faith or require investigation and inquiry? Both are required.” His meaning in writing “simple faith” is believing innocently with no inquiry or examination and is a matter tied to a person’s soul and not his intellect, and as the Rebbe himself wrote (pg. 9), “the matter of feeling and verification of suppositions in the soul determine more than conclusions a person arrives at through the intellect…and the soul is an actual part of G-d above—and an appeal to the soul, not necessarily through the intellect, will have more power.”
And it is clear that matters of the soul can not be disputed, and as the faces of people are different, so, too, are their souls and their opinions different, and there are no rational arguments which make a difference. There are souls of those who believe in a Creator of the world who gave the Torah and commandments, souls of those who believe in a Creator of the world who allows each person to decide his values and laws for himself, and souls of those who feel there is no G-d at all; each person has his own faith which can not be debated, for as long as one deals with faith and not facts anything is possible. There are no limits to the number and types of beliefs.
This is the place to note the words of the Rebbe, who wrote in his letter (pg. 12), “For a religious man to act as a secular man is against his conscience, but it is not so for a secular person who acts as a religious person — this is merely contrary to his convenience.” These words of the Rebbe, had they not been written, would not have been worthy of reference, for do the secular have no faith and conscience? How can a person whose soul accepts the wonderful values of democracy and equality without difference of religion, race, or gender act as a religious person who treats a gentile as a second-class person, one to whom lost items should not be returned and to whom it is a commandment to loan money at interest, and the saving of a gentile’s life does not supercede the Sabbath? See the harsh words of the Rebbe (pg. 31), “To those who are not Jewish, they have not all the same possibilities which are given to the people of Israel…for Israel among the nations is like the heart in the body.” And how is it that by us a woman may not testify and does not inherit from her father, and many more such things; these are among the things that a principled soul can not tolerate and even rises up against. Please remove this abominable way of thought and begin to relate to facts and reality — the values of the Judaic religion really do wound the soul of a secular believer and not “merely his convenience” as said here.
In light of this, we will approach the area which intellect does touch, and that is research and investigation, but keep this in mind and do not stray from these, the words of the Rebbe on pg. 38, “If a person lacks the courage to stand before the truth then he will try to justify his negative behavior with all sorts of pretexts and justifications instead of changing…in this case, because he became enmeshed in complications from which he finds no escape, he will try to invent a ‘personal philosophy’ for himself which will justify his negative behavior and he will go from failure to failure.” His words are meant for everyone, even believers, and therefore you must gather your courage and really stand before the truth, as the Rebbe says.
The Rebbe answered in his letter (14 Menachem Av 5719) pp. 31-32, after being asked if it is possible to prove that Torah was given at Sinai by G-d, that as a person, in his life, relies on the testimony of others even in the matter of a dangerous operation, he relies on others and their testimony that so-and-so is a good doctor, so he relies on the historians, and even if details contradict each other, the majority rules, particularly if it is a large majority. After this introduction he wrote, “The idea that the Torah was given at Sinai by G-d is not a supposition renewed in our era, for we have heard it from our fathers and our fathers from their fathers, and so arose a tradition and the story went from generation to generation (and in each generation the story was passed along with a precise formula by hundreds of thousands of people from different circles of life, and even so the formula was the same and from the time of the giving of the Torah there was not a single time that the tradition was changed, even the Gentiles did not change it). Thus it goes back to the generation of the sons of those Israelites who entered the land with Joshua, who heard it from their fathers, the ones who had left Egypt and themselves stood at Mount Sinai and heard the Voice proclaim, ‘I am the Lord, your G-d.’ It is understandable and simple that, had there suddenly been revitalized a rumor during one or another of the generations between, it would be impossible for hundreds of thousands to devise a plot to tell their sons to publish a rumor which dealt with the giving of the Torah, and certainly someone would have told his friend, ‘What is this new thing in the land which we’d not heard before?’. And when you look at everything which has been said you can expand on this intellectual discussion.”
But what can we do if the Rebbe’s claim does not stand up at all to the test of logical and intellectual critique?
He writes that the Torah which was given at Sinai by G-d is not a supposition renewed, but we received it from our fathers at Sinai down to this very day. Factually, to one who researches the truth, these words are not correct, neither according to the Scriptures nor the Gemara nor science.
In the Scriptures it is written explicitly (II Kings 22:8), “Then the high priest Hilkiah said to the scribe Shaphan, ‘I have found a scroll of the Teaching in the House of the Lord.’ And Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, who read it….The king commanded all the people, ‘Offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your G-d as prescribed in this scroll of the covenant.’ For there was not a Passover sacrifice like that since the days of the Judges who ruled Israel, nor during the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. But only in the eighteenth year of King Josiah was such a Passover sacrifice offered to the Lord in Jerusalem. Josiah also did away with the necromancers and the mediums, the idols and the fetishes—all the detestable things that were to be seen in the land of Judah and Jerusalem. Thus he fulfilled the terms of the Teaching recorded in the scroll that the priest Hilkiah had found in the House of the Lord.”
Similarly in II Chronicles 34:15.
So you have it, from explicit Scriptures, that a Torah scroll which no one had known of or was familiar with until then was suddenly found! The people of Israel celebrated Passover as they never had done before, and if that’s how the matter stands, we have no tradition at all transmitted from Joshua to Josiah; understand this well. There were no hundreds of thousands transmitting to hundreds of thousands; no one knew until this scroll was found and the story was in it and Josiah and his generation accepted the words of the story. No sons from their fathers, but an act found written and which no one knew! And they believed in the story and accepted it from then.
The second proof is from the Gemara, Sanhedrin 21b, “Mar Zutra said, and some say it was Mar Ukba who said: at first Torah was given to Israel in Hebrew letters and the Holy Language. It was again given to them in the days of Ezra in Ashuri letters and the Aramaic language.” This is testimony from the Gemara that Ezra changed the letters from what was accepted and rewrote the whole Torah in another language (Aramaic), so once again there is no continuity of transmission from father to son. The Gemara also does not explain how the Torah came once again to be in the Hebrew language nor when, and we have no tradition about that, either. For one who says that Ezra neither added nor took away from what was written in the Torah, we have found that he changed the first commandment given to us. “This month shall be for you the first of months, first of all months of the year.” As Rabbi Joseph Albo wrote inSefer HaIkarim, article three, chapter 16, “And when they came from Babylon they thought it correct to make a commemoration of the second redemption and they did so in two ways. First, they left the Hebrew lettering and chose for themselves the Ashuri lettering, to recall that they had been exiled to Ashur and redeemed from there… And another thing they did as a remembrance of the second redemption was to make a new count of the months, instead of from Nisan, as they had grown accustomed to counting, as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, and they made a new counting, using their [Babylonian] names – Tishrei, Cheshvan, etc.” The same was written by Ramban on Exodus 12:2, “The names of the months came with us from Babylon… We started to call the months as they are called in the land of Babylon to recall that we stayed there and from there G-d took us away. For the names Nisan, Iyar and the like are Persian names…and to this day the Gentiles in the lands of Persia and Media call them thus, Nisan and Tishrei.” And this is a testimony by two rabbis that our faith was influenced by the writings, language, and terminology of the cultures to which we were exiled, and they cancelled the first commandment given to us at Sinai. So who will dare to say they were not influenced by other things and began with other traditions? It is important to investigate this matter.
And now we come to the last issue, and it is the most important. To verify a historical fact, one must make a cross-check from several sources, for a matter can not rest on a single testimony. The claim that there are 600,000 witnesses is a nonsensical claim, for this is written in the Torah itself, and it is the Torah itself which is being examined to see if its words are honest or are mythic stories and legends. How can someone bring proof from the very thing which demands proof?
Understand that all which passed from father to son is not personal stories whose truth is recognizable, like what Mommy did at the time of the Torah giving — was she changing the baby’s clothes or had she been making cereal, things like that — but all that was transmitted from father to son was the Scriptural text itself which is that under discussion, so to verify it we need at least some external sources which will fit what is written therein. But after archeologists and scientists checked this and wrote many books on this issue, you stand shaken and amazed by the discoveries of the papyri and the early writings from the time of the Exodus from Egypt. There is no sign and no recollection and not even a single word in all the writings and books and scrolls and monuments. Not a single word about Israel in Egypt and not a word about the Exodus from Egypt.
So it becomes clear to you that there was no Exodus from Egypt and Israel did not conquer the land of Canaan, and that the story of the desert and Sinai never happened. Look at the books and understand from these sorts of things that not only is there no proof for the veracity of Torah, but the opposite is true, and one who takes things out of their context has the burden of proof. About these findings and others alike we will publish a special pamphlet which clearly shows what did and what did not happen in the Jewish history.
We will conclude with the little creatures which teach us large things, the lice and worms which, according to Chazal, are created from rot and mold (see pamphlet #1). The Rebbe was asked about this, and this is his answer (pg. 131), “About the worms which create themselves, the matter is clear. Experimentation does allow one to follow the development of a worm from an egg, and when there is also observation of the process of laying these eggs, it can be determined that the specific worm was created through procreation, but when, in a rotten sample, eggs of a certain species are found, as well as worms of that species, these facts do not prove at all the impossibility of the appearance of worms without procreation, through self-creation [abiogenesis].” Beyond the fact that the Rebbe’s words are far from the common sense according to any intelligent person who takes an interest in them, halachically he made a grave error, for according to him there are lice birthed from eggs and that same species of lice can appear through abiogenesis. If so, why did Chazal allow the killing of lice on Shabbat, for perhaps this louse was created from eggs (from male and female), the killing of which on Shabbat is punishable by stoning?? It is quite amazing that this simple question evaded the Rebbe.
And what you must do now is to fulfill the words of the Rebbe and stand courageously before the truth, even if it contradicts the suppositions of faith, and accept the truth without favoritism, but with true research, investigation, and examination until your mind is satisfied.