Follow by Email

Monday, 23 October 2017

Who wrote the Torah?

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 99

Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit.  Noach gets drunk.  Avraham tells a white lie about Sarah. Sarah laughs in disbelief.  Yitzchak blindly favours the wrong kid.  Rivkah tricks her husband.  Yaakov gets angry at his barren wife.  Yehuda consorts with Tamar and then almost has her killed.  Aharon builds the Golden Calf.  Moshe hits the rock.  Shimshon takes a Philistine wife.  David takes Uriah’s wife.  Shlomo has too many wives.

The Torah is filled with stories of leaders of our nation who were just a little bit off.  What kind of guide book is that?  Shouldn’t the Torah present our greats in a way that portrays them as unparalleled amongst men?  Wouldn’t that spur us to follow in their holy footsteps?

“For the word of Hashem he has despised.”  This refers to one who says, ‘Torah is not from Heaven.’  And even if he said, ‘The entire Torah is from Heaven except one particular verse, which was not said by G-d, rather Moshe said it himself,’ he is guilty of “For the word of Hashem he has despised.”

The period since the nineteenth century has seen a concerted effort to deny the Divinity of the Torah.  Biblical critics have all manner of proof to demonstrate that the Torah is a compilation of human texts, redacted by some great editor.  Nevertheless, this phenomenon is far from new.  The Rambam already lists as his eighth principle of faith, “I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moshe.”  And this principle is premised on the teaching of our Gemara.

The proofs of the critics are hardly convincing.  Let’s just look at one oft-quoted example.  In the Book of Bamidbar, we find a tribal prince called Deuel.  Then suddenly his name becomes Reuel.  Now, in Hebrew, the letters dalet and reish look similar.  Therefore, posit the Bible critics, it’s obviously a scribal error.  Whoever was copying the text wasn’t paying attention – maybe his mind had wandered off to the latest gladiator duel he’d watched – and he carelessly wrote the wrong letter.  Well, considering their claims to a great editor, it sounds like a pretty sloppy mistake.  You’d think someone on the editorial team would’ve caught that one!

Rabbi Sacks points out a more fundamental basis for our belief in the Divinity of the Torah.  Every other religion’s foundational text paints their leader as flawless.  If you were going to invent a theology, it only makes sense.  Who would buy into a cult where the leadership were anything less than godly?

As the list above demonstrates, however, Judaism never attempts to whitewash our leaders’ behaviours.  We are hard-pressed to find a single character who is faultless!  Why?  Because only the Almighty is perfect.  Human beings can achieve perfection, but we must work on ourselves.  Our great leaders were the individuals who overcame their humble and flawed beginnings and rose above.

The Torah is the word of Hashem.  Some passages and stylistic approaches may indeed be cause for uncertainty.  But our Sages have gone to great lengths to strive to understand some of the complexities, and the solutions are all presented in the biblical commentaries.  May you forever maintain your belief in the eighth principle of faith!