After the receiving of the Torah, as we now go into the mitzvos, we share a letter in which the Rebbe answers one with questions and doubts about the Torah and mitzvos. Using the scientific method in his explanation, the Rebbe discusses why Jews have 613 and non-Jews have 7 mitzvos and how we can be sure of the authenticity of Torah. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
12th Shevat, 5744
Greeting and Blessing:
Since your letter, I have not heard from you. I trust it is a case of “no news is good news,” and that the problem you write about, namely, facing a crisis of faith on account of certain doubts and uncertainties, has been overcome, or at least substantially eased, as indeed most often happens in such cases.
This is one of the reasons, the main one being pressure of duties, why my reply to your letter has been inordinately delayed. And also because it is difficult to discuss such a topic adequately in a letter. Actually, there is no need for it, inasmuch as it is not an unusual problem, and there is a whole body of literature, also in English, that deals with the questions raised in your letter. It is surely possible to discuss them with a knowledgeable person, such as a learned practicing Rav.
Since you have written to me, I will endeavor to clarify, within the limits of a letter, some of the uncertainties mentioned in your letter, such as how to understand the diversity of religions in the world why are Jews committed to keep all 613 mitzvos of the Torah, while the rest of mankind only seven of them, the so-called Seven Noahite Laws (with all their ramifications of course) – which also constitutes quite a substantial Divinely ordained moral code); how can a Jew be certain that the Jewish religion and way of life is the true one and superior to any other, etc.
Let me begin with an illustration: a person looking at his hand will, first of all, think of it as a part of his anatomy which is capable of performing a variety of manual jobs. Thinking further, one will see that the hand comprises many parts such as fingers and muscles which have their particular functions as well as cooperative functions in conjunction with other parts, enabling the hand to carry out more delicate tasks like writing, for example. On a still deeper level, there are nerves and vessels that connect the hand and fingers to the brain and heart, which influences the quality of the handwriting, to the extent of expressing the writer’s thoughts and feelings and even revealing hidden aspects of his character, as is known to handwriting experts. One could carry the analysis still further, to the level of atoms, electrons etc. Thus, one can speak of the human hand and its functions on different levels, from the simplest to the most complex, which are not mutually incompatible, as long as each part carries out its functions in the proper and wholesome manner.
If there are such complexities, gradations and levels in the physical world, yet with an underlying unifying factor, they certainly are present in the world of the metaphysical and spiritual.
When it comes to contemplating the existence of G-d, one must, first of all realize that a finite human being, even the wisest of men, cannot grasp the “mind” and “thought” of the Creator, Whose attributes are essentially incomprehensible as Himself – except to the extent that He willed to reveal in the Torah. But what is revealed in the Torah is as clear as light, which is why the Torah is called Torah Or; indeed much of it has become common sense.
Now insofar as the human race is concerned, the Torah tells us that it has evolved, by the design of the Creator, into a variety of components, rather than one massive uniform block, just as the physical human body consists of a variety of organs and parts, each with its purpose and function; nothing in it useless or superfluous. For, as our Sages tell us, “The Creator has not created anything useless in His world.”
Of course one may wonder why did G-d choose one nation out of all mankind to give it His Torah and mitzvos and designate it as “A kingdom of kohanim (G-d’s servants) and a holy nation”? Or why does He permit such a variety of religious beliefs and practices, some of which are in direct conflict with His ordained order? But this would be like asking, why must the human body consist of such a variety of different parts, from the brain and heart to the foot and sole? Why not make it all heart or all brain? Or why does G-d permit malfunctions in the organism that is otherwise perfect?
As for the question, in view of the various religions and creeds in the world, each claiming to be the truth and superior to all others, how is a Jew to be certain that his religion is the true one? This and related questions have already been dealt with at length in the famous 12th century classic, the Book of Kuzari, by the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Yehidah Halevi, which is available also in English translation. It is well documented and based on proofs that would stand up to the scrutiny of scientific method and common sense.
One basic scientific principle is that the first thing is to ascertain the facts, regardless whether they seem logical or not, and then try to find the right explanation. This has been expressed in the dictum that knowledge is derived from reality, not visa versa. If according to one’s reasoning the reality should be different, the fault is with the reasoning, not with the reality.
A further basic principle of scientific method is that the veracity of testimony is compelling when it is based o the widest possible range of witnesses and observations, substantiated moreover, by experience under the widest possible conditions.
Accordingly, as pointed out in the Kuzari and in other sources through the ages, we Jews are certain that “Moshe is true and his Torah is true” on the basis of the historic events of the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai, which were witnessed and experienced by 600,000 male adult Jews, apart from women and children. What our ancestors witnessed and experienced they transmitted to their children and children’s children, from generation to generation to this day, for there has never been a break or any interruption in our history and tradition from the time of our first Patriarch Abraham.
Thus, the identical tradition has been transmitted to us by millions of Jews fork all walks of life and verified by the actual way of life and commitment to the same mitzvos of the same Torah (the same Shabbos, the same tefillin, mezuzah, etc.) from generation to generation, in different lands and under different conditions. While other factors which are usually associated with the preservation of other nations and their ethnic cultures – such as territory, political independence, language, dress, etc. – have changed in Jewish life from time to time and from place to place, the Torah and mitzvos did not change in the life of the Jewish people. This fact that runs like a golden thread throughout our Jewish history not only confirms without the slightest doubt the authenticity of our Torah and mitzvos but also clearly demonstrates which is the truly vital constant factor that has preserved us Jews under all possible circumstances and crises, namely, the Torah and mitzvos, “our life and the length of our days.”
No other religion, without exception, even whose followers by far outnumber our Jewish people, can claim such proof of authenticity. For as one traces these religions back to their origins, one invariably finds that ultimately each of these, without exception, is based on a single founder or a small group of founders. Consequently, despite the multitude of followers, the skeptic may question the veracity of the revelation claimed by the original founder, whether it was a genuine prophetic revelation as claimed or perhaps a hallucination and, in the case of a relatively small group of founders, whether there was a genuine shared experience or perhaps a collusion, and the like.
But of course, these doubts have no place in regard to our Torah, especially as also the other major religions clearly admit their fundamental dependence on out T’NaCh., the so-called Old Testament, with all the events recounted therein, including the Exodus and Revelation at Sinai – our very emphatic proof (if proof is needed) that “Moshe is true and his Torah is true.”
Finally, there is yet a further important point, which is also an accepted rule in science, namely, to rely on the authenticity of a recognized expert – a rule faithfully followed even in medicine, where it directly concerns health and life; certainly not to dismiss or act contrary to expert opinion.
The experts in regard to the problem outlined in your letter are the Torah authorities in every generation, those who dedicate their entire life to the study of the Torah and whose lives are consecrated to living in full accord with the letter and spirit of the Torah and its mitzvos.
Since everything is by hashgocho protis and this letter, long overdue, has finally come out in close proximity of Yud Shvat , the yartzeit hilulo of my father-in-law the Rebbe of saintly memory, it is timely to recall his life and work which have touched so many of our fellow Jews in all parts of the world. I trust you know of his total dedication to the preservation and indeed, dissemination of the Torah even under the most ruthless anti-religious totalitarian regime. Logically there was not the slightest chance that he could possibly succeed, especially after all the religious leaders (not only Jewish) had been silenced or eliminated. Yet, when the situation came to a head, in 1927, he came out victorious with G-d’s help. The fruits of his victory can be seen even now, more than half a century later, in the men, women and children who have come out from behind the Iron Curtain as strong an wholesome Jews and who are and inspiration to all who meet them. Many of them are in the forefront of activists who are continuing the work of the Baal haHilulo in various parts of the world.
On this note I conclude this unusually long letter, though all too short for the topic touched upon, with the prayerful wish that each one of us, yourself included, in the midst of all our people, do our share of spreading the light of the Torah and mitzvos to the maximum of one’s abilities and opportunities, and may Hashem grant that it be done with enthusiasm and with joy and gladness of heart.