Parshas Mishpatim (5775)
There is a fascinating story told about Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh Wormser - known throughout the Jewish world as the “Baal Shem” of Michelstadt.
As a child Yitzchak became known as a tremendous prodigy, bright and diligent in his Torah study. The local non-Jewish Duke heard about this “wonder child” and invited him for a visit to his palatial estate, which had a dizzying amount of wings, rooms and hallways.
The Baal Shem, who was only nine at the time, came alone to the palace, and attempted to find the Duke’s chamber. Before he was let in, the Duke had ordered all his assistants and servants to leave the palace, so that the boy wouldn’t be able to ask them how to get to his room. However, little Yitzchak was very clever, and noticed how the windows to all the rooms were wide open, while only one room had its windows closed with shutters. He found his way to that room, knocked on the door, and went in to the Duke’s chamber.
After speaking with the Duke, it became apparent that the servants had been asked to leave so that they shouldn’t purposefully mislead the child by sending him to the wrong rooms. The Duke then challenged the Baal Shem with the question: “What would you have done if all my servants had pointed you to rooms in all different directions?” The boy quickly answered, “Why, I would follow the rule mentioned in our holy Torah – ‘Acharei rabim l’hatos – you shall follow the majority’” (a verse in this week’s Torah portion - see Exodus 23:2)
The Duke then asked the boy, “If following the majority is such an important rule to use when making decisions, then why don’t you use it when it comes to life’s biggest decision? You know that Jews are but a small minority in the world, and the majority of people in the world follow the Christian faith. So why do you remain a Jew?”
Young Yitzchak was initially taken aback by the difficult challenge – but after thinking for a moment he responded, “My Lord, now that I know with absolute clarity that this is the Duke’s chamber where he receives his guests, even if all the servants in the palace would tell me otherwise, I wouldn’t listen to them. You see, the rule of “following the majority” only applies in cases of doubt. However, in regard to things about which we are absolutely certain, no majority can change the truth. For me, the truth of Judaism and the Torah that was transmitted to me from my parents is certain, and I have no need to follow any majority.”
This story is very powerful and tells of the tremendous clarity that Jews have had over the past 3000 years about the truth of Judaism and the Torah. This clarity has no doubt been a huge factor in our ancestors’ willingness to give up their lives and be martyred countless times over the centuries and millennia before converting to a different faith.
But we have to ask ourselves the question – from where did our ancestors get this clarity? Indeed, how were they so certain that the faith they were brought up in was the truth, and that the Torah they lived by was Divine, and not just the product of some very intelligent human beings?
Truth be told, there are a great many proofs – both philosophical and historical - of G-d’s existence, the Creation story, and the Divinity of the Torah that have been handed down through the centuries – and it is not within the parameters of this essay to elaborate upon them in depth. [Two web links that contain a fraction of what has been taught on these important questions - but that are a good start – are: http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/creatorofworld.htm and http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/TorahTrue.htm ]
One interesting “proof” of the Divinity of the Torah comes from a biblical commandment mentioned at the end of this week’s Torah portion (see Exodus 23:17) and elaborated upon later on in Parshas Ki Sisa. There the Torah writes: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord Hashem, the G-d of Israel. For I shall banish nations before you and broaden your boundary; no man will covet your land when you go up to appear before Hashem, your G-d, three times a year.” (ibid 34:23-24)
Can you believe that? In the face of constant historical attempts in every generation to conquer the tiny Land of Israel and wipe out the Jewish people, the Torah proposes a tried and tested recipe for “national suicide”. All males are commanded to ascend to Jerusalem for the tri-annual pilgrimage (known in Hebrew as Aliyah L’Regel). This not only leaves their borders abandoned and therefore all women and children in danger of attack by surrounding enemies, but effectively leaves all their cities and habitations and their possessions in the category of “taker’s choice”. Where is the army that will protect the “desirable Land” from enemies who sharpen their sights upon it incessantly?
And even if we should conceive that this mass pilgrimage was to be kept secret for hundreds of years, we are reminded otherwise; for the Torah was written in 70 languages before Israel’s entrance into the Land.
Can you imagine this happening today? I can see it now …It’s right before Passover and Achmed is looking through his binoculars at his army post in southern Lebanon. All of a sudden he sees something he never thought he would see his whole life - all the Israeli soldiers are packing their bags and leaving their positions along the entire border, heading south towards Jerusalem!!! In total shock and disbelief he immediately radios the great news to Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut and they all start rejoicing over their good fortune. Can the Jewish people be saved??
And yet this is exactly what the Torah (G-d?) commands every Jewish male to do – not once, not twice, but three times a year – with the guarantee that “no nation will covet your land” when you go up to Jerusalem.
Why would a human lawmaker be forced to include such improbable (and suicidal) requisites without cause? How shall he hope to miraculously keep all these promises during the course of history?
This commandment – one of the 613 mitzvos in the Torah – has G-d’s Divine handprint all over it. Only G-d could command such a risky act and get away with it. And there are many other commandments like this which could only have emanated from a Divine Being – and which are the source of the clarity and certainty about our faith that the nine-year-old Baal Shem as well as all our Jewish grandparents and great-grandparents have always had.
[Sources: The Gateways Seminar Source Book]