Most religions begin with one individual, or a few, who have some kind of communion with a transcendent reality. This prophet, mystic or small group then conveys the experience to others, and through discussion, persuasion, and so on, more people come to believe in the message and adhere to the spiritual leader. One person influences the next and with time, rites and rituals become established and a religion is born.
Not so Judaism.
The foundation of Judaism is the Jewish experience at Sinai, where G-d Himself spoke directly to several million people, 3,300 plus years ago.1 This event is called the giving of the Torah and did not involve debate, persuasion or meditation. It was a public revelation of the Creator of the universe. What everyone heard was the first two of the Ten Statements, or as they are popularly known, the Ten Commandments. The sheer power of G-d's voice was overwhelming and the Israelites had out-of-body experiences with every word. They then asked Moses to convey the details and he did.
Moses spent a total of 120 days communing with G-d on Mt. Sinai, absorbing the Divine will and wisdom which he then taught to the people. He brought down two sapphire cubes with the Ten Commandments etched by the Almighty Himself. He later wrote the Five Books of Moses, which are referred to by the Jews as the written Torah. Jewish tradition maintains that these five books were dictated to Moses by G-d, word by word and letter by letter.
Encoded in the written Torah is extensive information about Moshiach and the ultimate redemption of mankind. In fact, there is hardly a verse of the Five Books of Moses without bearing on Moshiach and redemption. The sages go so far as to state that the entire Torah speaks about redemption, and that this is the purpose of creation in the first place. Indeed the whole purpose of G-d's giving the Torah at Sinai was to guide humanity toward this goal.
Before his passing, Moses wrote by hand 13 scrolls of the written Torah. One copy was given to each of the twelve tribes of Israel and the thirteenth was placed in the Ark of the Tabernacle along with the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments.
Complementary to this written Torah, are the explanations that Moses taught to the nation as revealed to him on Mt. Sinai. This body of information is known as the oral Torah. It has been carefully and precisely conserved over 33 centuries, handed down from generation to generation. Moreover, in each generation there have not been less than 600,000 who have transmitted this information, in both written and complementary oral form, comprising an unbroken chain of tradition from then until now.2
It is important to note that it is rationally and scientifically acceptable to believe that the Torah is from G-d. Science views observations as facts and consistency of reports among diverse observers as corroboration of the facts. Thus, public revelation coupled with an unbroken chain of tradition along diverse lines in time and place gives us a scientifically sound reason to believe in the Divine origin of the Torah.
The information conveyed in the Tradition from Sinai is exceptionally precise. The Torah scrolls used in synagogues have over 304,000 Hebrew letters. Verified Scrolls have been compared from various continents over centuries and millennia and there is a variance of only one letter overall.
The fidelity of the oral Torah is even more remarkable. For example, for the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkos), the Torah requires the children of Israel to 'take the fruit of a beautiful tree.' This leaves room for thousands of options, depending on personal taste and geographic location. Yet wherever and whenever you look, the only species ever used has been the Mediterranean citron or esrog in Hebrew.
The oral Torah not only specifies, but also establishes the simple meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, the punishment of "an eye for an eye" never meant gouging or blinding but rather monetary compensation to the victim for loss of vision, loss of income, cost of healing, pain and embarrassment.
From where is This Torah?
We can observe that the information in the written and the oral Torah has been very precisely conserved, but how accurate is it?
In other words one may ask the Torah's tradition may be remarkably exact but is it of Divine origin as claimed? To evaluate this possibility, one could check whether specific facts that could not be known at the time of writing were predicted by the Torah and then happened as foretold.
Let's consider one case of a very specific and potentially disprovable statement. The Torah claims that there are four and only four types of animals that have only one of the two signs by which kosher animals are classified. The signs are split hooves and chewing the cud. The types listed are the hare, the badger, the camel, and the pig. At the time the claim was made, Europe was mainly an uninhabited forest, Asia and Africa were mainly inaccessible, and the Americas and Australia were entirely unknown to the inhabitants of the Middle East. Still in the intervening 3,000-odd years, of the thousands of mammals discovered since then, none have only one kosher sign. How could the Torah have known this?
What are the alternatives to Divine origin? Let's approach this question as a scientist might. Scientists, when looking for an explanation, use alternative hypotheses. The simplest hypothesis that explains the most data without contradicting known facts is generally accepted.
In our case, we need to account for the following facts. When the Israelites left Egypt in the year 2448 (1313 BCE), they did not have the Torah. When they arrived in Israel 40 years later, they did have the Torah. The written and oral Torah both attests to public revelation and we have evidence of an unbroken chain of transmission.
Is it possible that the Israelites were duped? If so, would there not be some contemporary record of dissenting opinion? Consider the Jews at the time. They could barely agree about anything. The Torah records complaints about the food, about the water, about the itinerary, about leadership, and so on. Why was there no dissent at the time about the origin of the Torah itself? The simplest explanation that explains all of these facts without contradiction is Divine origin.
There is only one real problem with accepting the Torah as G-d's word. It means that the Torah and its directives must be taken seriously. If one starts from the premise of a non-involvement G-d and man's cosmic insignificance, then any alternative explanation would be better than G-d gave the Jews a Torah in the desert. On the other hand if one starts out unprejudiced, then the simplest and most logical conclusion, explaining all the data without contradiction is that there was indeed a Divine intervention at Sinai which the Torah records.
Law: The Body of the Torah
The Torah has both body and soul. The body of the Torah is the laws. The Tradition from Sinai contains a relatively small degree of legislation relevant to all peoples, but regarding the Jew, there is a very extensive body of law dealing with every aspect of both physical and spiritual life: Sleeping, eating, dressing, business, prayer, study, charity, and so on. These Torah Laws may be considered as a user guide for the Jewish life, direct from the Manufacturer.
The written Torah directs the rabbinical judges of each generation to rule matters of Torah Law. It also gives criteria for who can judge and how judgment is to be rendered. The body of authentic Torah Law is called Halachah. Halachah determines what is permissible and what is forbidden, what is kosher and what is not, etc.
As with anything else, there are Jewish legal criteria for what and who Moshiach may be, and the Jew is bound by these laws just as he/she is bound in matters of what to eat, how to treat parents, and how much charity to give. Usually Jewish legal rulings are not a big deal for society at large. However, since the Moshiach issue is of such immense importance and timely relevance to the whole world, people deserve to know upon what basis the claims of this article are made.
Mysticism: The Soul of the Torah
There is more to life than the rules. The soul of the Torah is the mystic dimension as expressed in Kabbalah and especially Chassidus. The oldest extant Kabbalistic work is Sefer Yetsira, which is attributed to the patriarch Abraham about 3,750 years ago. This work contains teachings about G-d's creative processes. Some 2,000 years ago R' Shimon bar Yochai authored the Zohar which conveys the secrets of the Torah. 500 years ago Kabbalah was still a secret discipline, but that changed with R' Yitzhak Luria, the ARIZAL, who started to publicize the mystic dimension more broadly.
Three hundred years ago, there was born a new wave of practical mysticism initiated by R' Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. This movement, called Chassidism, revitalized Judaism and promoted two main concepts which have always been recognized by Judaism but which had not been sufficiently emphasized. The first is that G-d specifically supervises and guides every detail of the cosmos, and creates it all it from nothing to something, continuously. The second is that even the unlearned person can give tremendous pleasure to his/her Creator with any sincere prayer or good deed.
According to both the body and the soul of the Torah, there is always someone who is equivalent to Moses in each generation in both the moral and spiritual sense. As will be discussed later, for the past 300 years, the generational leader has been from the Chassidic movement, and in our time, this is The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the seventh leader of Chabad Chassidism, the ninth in line from the Baal Shem Tov, and approximately the 100th from Moses.
The generational leader is also the potential Moshiach of the generation. When the time comes, the potential Moshiach becomes the actual Moshiach and redeems the world. According to many rabbinic authorities and especially the Rebbe himself, the time is now.
1. There were 603,550 censused adult males. According to Jewish chronology the giving of the Torah took place on 6 Sivan 2448, or 14 May 1313 BeE. see Aryeh Kaplan'S translation of the encyclopedic 17th C. Biblical commentary Me'Am Loez by Yaakov Culi, published as The Torah Anthology Me'Am Loez, Maznaim Press, NY. 1979. Vol.6 p.73
2. For the first 1300 years, the oral Torah was literally that. The only written forms were casual student notes made as study aids but no books or formal documentation were permitted. Then during the Roman occupation of Israel, the physical and spiritual oppression became so intense that the Torah was at risk of being forgotten and the sages started to codify the oral Torah. The major works include the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Legal Codes such as the one by Maimonides. The leading mystic texts include the Zohar and Sefer Yetsira. The Tanya is the premiere text of Chassidism. In total there are literally thousands of volumes of Torah wisdom in print today, much of it now in English.