Can you fool a Jewish woman who can find a Gucci in a pile of Prada?
Merely a hundred years ago, eminent archaeologists like John Garstang and William Albright used to dig in what was to become the State of Israel with a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other, so convinced were they by prior discoveries that the Holy Land itself would confirm faith. However, the spirit of libertinism overtook this field as every other in the twentieth century. Then it became de rigueur to publish articles debunking the Bible, even if that required superficial carbon-dating gymnastics to hide the obvious. Such as the example of ancient Jericho, which sports the collapsed walls, evidence of Joshua’s burning, and untouched jars of grain of the Biblical record. Yet archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon insisted the city was vanquished 150 years earlier, leaving nothing left to destroy by the traditional biblical date.
Contemplating our people’s ancient history one day, I stumbled upon a line of reasoning that strengthened my belief in the historical events of the Bible. I was further gratified when I read a passage in Uri Zohar’s autobiography My Friends, We Were Robbed that suggested that this celebrated secular-movie-star-turned-passionate-outreach-rabbi was moved by the same idea. It elaborates upon the famous argument of the medieval Jewish philosopher Rabbi Judah HaLevi, written in the Kuzari.
The elements of the triple-stranded cord that has tied our people to its identity for four thousand years are miraculous historical events, the arduous commandments, and the preserved written record, i.e. the Torah, first received by witnesses to those very miracles.
Our Bible claims that utterly extraordinary events happened to the children of our forefathers and foremothers, close to 3500 years ago. Such as, they were trapped in Egypt, forced to labor for a ruthless Egyptian potentate, and freed by a supernatural vanquishment of the despot, his warriors and land. For the express purpose of receiving a Torah, fifty days later, filled with laborious commandments, some of which commemorate that very deliverance.
I merely maintain the obvious: if the historical events didn’t happen, our ancestors would have rejected the Torah claiming they did and renounced those arduous commandments.
What could make otherwise independent-minded people (some would say stiff-necked) accept the obligation to uphold a legacy and teach it to their children other than their own eyes? Could you sell a fiction to a whole nation, all the more so, one that demands herculean efforts of them, like clearing out their houses every year of the slightest speck of leaven, an operation which mimics Egyptian slavery in its strenuousness?
I maintain our ancestors did leave Egypt with matzo on their backs; otherwise, they would neither have faithfully preserved a Torah for 3300 years, claiming they did nor kept those commandments. And had they voted with their feet, we would have no remnant of Jewish people today who keeps that history alive.
Every upheld testimonial commandment—a subset of the laws of the Jewish tradition called edot—verifies our history, corroborating that our great, great, great, great…grandparents experienced the most exquisite intimacy with God, as a result of which we are here today, still calling ourselves Jews and God’s special people.
Let us not forget, the miraculous nature of these historical events confirms that we are talking about a Supreme Being, capable of suspending the laws of nature He established, in order to demonstrate His sovereignty. This is a God who can make fire and ice coexist in supernatural hail (Ex. 9:24–26). He can bathe Goshen in sunlight, the province where Jews resided, and shroud the rest of Egypt in darkness (Ex. 10:22–24). He can bring devastating swarms of wild predators and pestilence, which inexplicably did not harm the Jews (Ex. 8:17–20; 9:1–7). He can split the seas to allow innocents to pass to safety and drown the guilty (Ex. 14:21–30).
Only such an omnipotent sovereign is worthy of the awe, love, and worship of which we are commanded: One who intervened in history to rescue our people from merciless exploitation and slaughter, standing against oppression.
Despite the fact that God impressed Himself upon our ancestors with a display of might, what does it tell you about a God who has chosen ever since to be represented by the smallest of all peoples (Deut. 7:7)—a people distinguished by the three traits of compassion, bashfulness, and generosity (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 79)? Our God doesn’t delight in might but in virtue. That is a God I can serve proudly.
A more powerful, provocative argument for the truth of our heritage can be found in the essay “Solving the Jewish Mystery” in Making Meaning Out of Madness: A Jewish Journey, newly published. Order it here.