Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Revelation part 2 - Inspiration and Prophecy - a miracle.

Mis- Nagid got very upset and frustrated when I described the experience at Har Sinai as "miraculous". I expected that reaction. Without going very deeply into the issue of miracles let me just quote Rambam in Pirush Hamishna on that famous mishna in Avos 5:5, that enumerates the things that were created Friday afternoon:

"He instituted into nature that through them there would be fashioned all that would be fashioned. whether the phenomena which would be fashioned would be frequent, namely, a natural phenomenon, or would be an infrequent change , namely a sign, they are all equal."

In other words when an event is rare it is perceived as miraculous when an event happens often it is perceived as nature, however in reality both are natural events. There is much more to this issue but I want to talk specifically about Revelation and share a few thoughts on Ma'amad Har Sinai.

There is a famous saying in TB Makkoth 24a "Anochi velo yhyeh lecha mipi hagvurah shomu'um" - They heard "I" and "you shall not have" from the mouth of the Force. Many Rishonim understood that verbatim that these two mitzvos all the people heard directly from God while the others from Moshe. Some say (Ramban) that the first two they heard clearly while the other 8 came garbled, others that these were the only two they heard. Rambam in Moreh 2:33 says:

"They mean that these words reached them just as they reached Moshe Rabbeinu and that it was not Moshe who communicated them to them. For these two principles, I mean the existence of the deity and His being one , are knowable by human speculation alone."

Rambam expands further, rather cryptically, that all the people according to their ability apprehended that Moshe was passing along to them things that were divinely inspired. It was an understanding that could not be verbalized but it left no doubt in their mind. (Hil Yesodei Hatorah 8:1 "veonu shomi'im Moshe, Moshe lech emor lohem kach vokach") These two principles however were learned with their rational thoughts. Rashba in a Teshuva vol 4 - 234 explains that what the Rabbis mean (according to Rambam) with the word Force is "Gevuras Hasechel" - "Rational Force". R. Avraham ben Harambam in his pirush on Yssro understands that Moshe, during the three days of separation before matan torah, taught the people philosophical ideas introducing them to concepts that would allow them to experience revelation.

Prophecy is a natural human ability to comprehend things without having to follow step by step logic - it is an inspirational leap. Great scientists have them and that is how new insights are developed. How does one know that this inspiration is correct not just a figment of one's imagination? First it has to be in a field that the person knows a lot about. In other words there has to be lots of preparation. Einstein knew all that was known about physics up to his time and when he made the inspirational leap that lead him to his great insight, he knew he was right, because it fit. The same applies to prophecy. Unless the person is informed in the subject he was inspired in, it is not inspiration but nonsense. Second it has to be proven afterwards to be true. An insight that cannot be proven has no meaning just like prophecy that does not happen is meaningless. " Vezeh lecho ho'os ki onochi shelachticho, behotziacho es ho'om mimitzraim Ta'avdun es hoelhim al hahar hazeh". Moshe shared with them a prophecy that God wants to take them out of Egypt and make them into His nation. When the inspiration came to pass and was realized, Moshe could be completely sure that it was a real Divine inspiration and not a figment of his imagination.

That is what R. Avraham explains that at Har Sinai for the people to have a meaningful experience and understand that Moshe was sharing Divine ideas and concepts, they needed a crash course in basic theology. That had started already when Moshe first introduced himself to them and told them "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" and intensified further as the day of Matan Torah got closer. They had advanced so far that they could rationally understand that there is a God and that he is unique. The result was that they were knowledgable enough and could accept that Moshe was transmitting to them God's words. The Revelatory experience, the inspiration they had at Har Sinai was real and true.

Vya'anu kol ho'om yachdov vayomru kol asher diber hashem Na'aseh, to get all the Jews together at one time and for all of them to have the ability to accept that God can "talk" to man is a miraculous event, it happened only once and will not happen again.


  1. "Mis- Nagid got very upset and frustrated when I described the experience at Har Sinai as "miraculous"."

    No I didn't. Here's the quote:

    "The fact that 600,000 people could have a revelatory experience is the greatest miracle and only happened once in history."

    600,000 adult males (not "people") is what turned me off. That's as mythical as a global flood, and premising anything on it being history discredits everything that comes after it.

    I really don't care how you choose to redefine "miraculous" to soothe your conscience. Gey gezunte heit. But don't bother with trying to create an intellectually respectable Judaism until you come to grip with Exodus being myth.

  2. If in your mind 600,000 people is the equivalent to a large number so be it. I am dealing with the meassage you are dealing with the micro. I never understood the big to do years ago when ben Gurion said 600,000 was a guzma. Who cares!