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A Mountain Ablaze: Proving God Exists

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A Mountain Ablaze Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim In Deuteronomy, long after the event, Moses recalls elements of Revelation at Sinai. Interesting, he makes numerous mentions of one particular aspect: And God spoke to you from inside the fire, a voice of words did you hear, and no form did you see, only a voice (4:12). And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire (4:16). Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as you have (4:33)? From the heavens He made heard His voice to train you, and on Earth He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard from inside the fire (4:36). Face to face, God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire (5:4). These matters God spoke to your entire assembly on the mountain from inside the fire... (5:19). ...and you said "And His voice we heard from inside the fire"... (5:21). For who of all flesh has heard the voice of the living God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as us (5:23)? And God gave to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and upon them, as all the words that God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire on the day of the assembly (9:10). What is so significant about fire? Why on a mountain? Why was Moses so careful to recall these two aspects of Sinai so many times? Placed in the context of the event and appreciating the goal, let us rephrase the question: How is a voice emanating from a fiery mountain, indispensable for the proof God wished to offer man of His existence? How is fire different from all other elements, such as earth, water, air, wind, metals, ice, etc? How is a mountain different from all other topography, from lakes, oceans, valleys, hills, etc? I ask this, because Moses repeats these two aspects. He must be driving a some essential feature of the Sinaic Revelation. But what? Man has discovered life everywhere on this planet. In the most frigid zones, insects live in glacier ice, and fish, under frozen seas. In the highest altitudes, spiders with parachute-like webs keep them afloat on journeys to new continents. In hot, arid deserts, mammals hydrate themselves by licking condensation off of stones placed at the entrances to their burrows. In mud, frogs survive, and deep inside sand dunes, animals breathe air through tiny nostrils filtering sand grains from air. However, fire is the one element in which no biological life can survive. Why was it used by God to prove His existence? The answer is apparent. God desired man to know that He exists, not just believe blindly. To this end, God orchestrated an event which would leave no doubt as to the Cause of the event – that this Cause is not a created being, but the Creator of the universe. How was this to be proved? Fire. This one element is mutually exclusive to all life. Yes, certain substances remain intact in even the most severe temperatures, but not life. No one at Sinai assumed anything physical could “speak to them from inside the fire.” Perhaps someone was dying inside the fire, and shrieked so loud, and that is what they heard? No, the verse says “a voice of words”, meaning, they heard intelligent speech, not someone’s dying shriek. A voice of intelligence emanating from “inside fire” proved beyond any doubt, that they were hearing words caused by God. They were being addressed by the Creator of fire, the Creator of all matter, the One Who is not controlled or affected by all creation or laws of creation. He is the One Who designed the universe. He is the only One who could go unaffected by a mountain ablaze. The Jews had solid proof for God’s existence, for the divine nature of the Torah, for God’s will that they follow His commands, and for Moses’ selection as God’s prophet. Moses also recalls that the Jews so no form. He says to them, “And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire.” Moses wishes to stress that one’s own soul is at stake, if he imagines any form coexisted with the Revelation at Sinai. The Jews' idolatrous tendencies would seek to explain away this unintelligible phenomena at Sinai. Man desires that everything fits into his familiar limited framework of understanding. But Moses alerts the Jews to this dangerous endeavor. He warns them that this event was not one as any other, that could be explained by natural law. “You saw no form”, “And be exceedingly careful for you life”, meaning, an error in connection with what God is, is the greatest error, and one’s life loses it’s purpose when he imagines God as physical in any way. “You saw no form.” We now understand Moses’ numerous recollections of the event at which the Jews heard God’s voice from inside the fire. Fire dispelled any probability of an earthly existence being the cause of this event. I believe the reason for a mountain was to enable such a large crowd of 2-3 million people to witness the event. Had this taken place on flat ground, those in the distance would see nothing. The mountain acted as an inverted stadium, where the event may be witnessed unobstructed from afar, and seen by many. The existence of God is not to be left to faith. God designed man with intelligence so that we engage it, and certainly in the most vital of areas, our relationship with God, i.e., religious life. Using reason, we today realize that such a massively-attended event must have occurred. We possess the same proof as those eyewitnesses over 3300 years ago. For if Revelation at Sinai did not take place, and Moses attempted to convince some nation that they and millions of others saw something which they had not, the story would never get off the ground. Moses would be viewed as a psychotic individual. That nation would not adopt Moses’ lies in place of what they all knew was their true history. Imagine someone telling a few thousand New Yorkers that they just witnessed the Twin Towers suddenly reappearing. Not a singe soul would pass this on to his children as a true event, and 3000 years for now, such an event will not be incorporated by major religions. This is exactly what Moses would have confronted, had he lied about Sinai. But the fact that the world accepted the account throughout time and up to today, is a testament to the truth of God’s revelation. It must have occurred. As is true regarding any historical account, Sinai too relies on mass witnesses as its validation. But had it simply been Moses’ word alone, or the word of small groups, this does not provide proof, for motive to lie can be found in small groups. Only with mass witnesses do we know for certain that an event transpired. This was the single time in history where God revealed Himself to man.

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1 Michael McKissick = "This has always been one of my favorite examples of human nature. The modern conversation about G-d's existence seems to revolve around whether or not there is proof that He exists. But what would "proof" change? There's always a way to explain away what does not fit into our understanding. The Israelites experienced G-d and turned away, time and time again.I think humans would do the same today. Even if G-d revealed himself like He did to the Israelites, we would still turn away. It's just a matter of whether or not we choose to turn back when we realized we've missed the mark. "
2 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = "Good point Michael. What proof can change, applies to a thinking person only. Any communication or demonstration can be argued, but this does not mean such argument invalidates a proof. God orchestrated a provable event, just like He gave commandments: so thinking individuals grasp the proof, and appreciate the perfections offered to us by adhering to God’s wisdom found in His commands. The who succumb to emotions and ignore reason like this proof, in no way mitigate the truth of Revelation at Sinai."
3 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "I believe another important point is that if there was undeniable "proof" of God, our gift of free choice would be in jeopardy. Even though the Jews saw the miracles at Sinai, God needed to enable them to "choose" to worship Him freely and thereby gave them a stronger desire towards idolatry which would equally balance their desire to worship Him. The Talmud says that this desire ceased with the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash however we have other tendencies today which are just as strong.Free choice can only exist where there are two equal and opposite paths that both seemingly provide a similar outcome. Worship Hashem and get a blessing or worship an idol and also receive a "blessing". If worshiping idols never worked, people would have stopped praying to them long ago, however that would not provide us with a choice to "serve good over evil". In addition, free choice cannot exist where one outcome is always visibly true. An example would be with regards to Christian, Jewish, Pagan and Muslim "miracles". If one of these groups was always the only one answered, then who would "choose" to be a member of the other group? The fact that each group does have viable miracles, is enough to offset the desire to select one of them and allow us to make a choice based on our free will."
4 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = "Yaakov, you write: “If one of these groups was always the only one answered (evidence of God’s intervention), then who would “choose” to be a member of the other group?”There are a myriad of reasons why other groups would choose not to align themselves with Judaism, even though Judaism was the only group with validated miracles. In the Bible we find proof of this concept in Amalek. They attacked the Jews, unprovoked. They harbored resentment of the Jew. Thus, even though Amalek did not experience miracles while Israel had dozens, Amalek’s instinctual motives obscured their minds, and they rejected God’s open miracles.Yaakov, you write: “The fact that each group does have viable miracles, is enough to offset the desire to select one of them and allow us to make a choice based on our free will.”Here you must validate your claim that other groups experienced miracles. We cannot rely on  “belief” to validate historical claims, but we require the very rigorous test of mass witnesses. Without masses, we have but the word of the few o the individual, which does not validate a claim as historically true. "
5 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "Rav Moshe, I'm not talking about Amalek; however many Erev Rav joined with Klal Yisrael as a direct result of the miracles of Yetzias Mitrayim. Yisro himself joined Israel as a result and the Torah tells us as such.Also, I think you misunderstood my comment. I'm not arguing Har Sinai, I'm merely stating that Klal Yisrael's sinning of the golden calf and in other areas was a direct result of bechira and is to be expected.The Torah tells us many times that false prophets can also perform miracles, we don't believe in Moshe Rabbeinu because of the miracles he performed, we believe in him because Hashem told us that he was His prophet. Other nations can also perform miracles and this is why the Torah tells us to stay away from diviners and black magic.Shalom"
6 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = "Yaakov, you write: “Other nations can also perform miracles and this is why the Torah tells us to stay away from diviners and black magic.”In actuality, no other nations has performed miracles, but rather, sleight of hand. If for example one carefully reads God’s Bible, he will realize the Egyptian “magicians” mimic Blood and Frogs as Saadia Gaon explains, through the use of dyes and chemicals that frogs repel. Thus, they used sleight of hand to dye water to appear as blood, and they used chemicals to cause frogs to leap out of the polluted Nile. One must be honest and ask why they could not reproduce Hail from the heavens, Darkness, Firstborn Deaths and any other plague? One must ask why Pharaoh did not ask his magicians to remove the plagues, but always, Pharaoh asked Moses. The answer to all these questions is detected from God’s Biblical narrative: the magicians were no different than today’s magicians. God does not endorse a liar with His miracles, so we find no Egyptian, or religions violating God’s command to not alter his Bible experiencing miracles perfumed in front of masses. Ibn Ezra teaches a marvelous lesson, “The Torah prohibits only that which is false.” Meaning idolatry and magic. This is why it is prohibited, and not as you suggested.I understand there are claims of miracles, and their is belief in miracles. But not one was witnessed by masses, so we have no “proof" for such claims."
7 James Oppenheimer = "Actually, I wonder that people simply assume this event happened. Many are the stories of events that happened in the past that seem a bit farfetched, of which the entire story of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai/Hebron is a prime example.It seems to many that surely SOME event must have happened, but that it has over time been overwritten with so much fantastic embroidery that the actual facts of whatever happened have long since been hopelessly obscured.A group of a million of so did not see it, because a group that size could not have been there. It had to have been a tiny group, and it seems likely that the writing down, taking place so many eons after the event, cannot preserve enough detail to be reliable.If one assumes God in this story, I think the truth is that one has already assumed God, as God can scarcely be demonstrated out of stories such as this. There isn't anything wrong with such thinking, but one needs to be honest and say that one believed in god ahead of the story, not because of the story.  God certainly is not demonstrated in any sense of the word from this mythic retelling of we know not what."
8 James Oppenheimer = "I do not think that a literary device need be considered "psychotic."Moses has absolutely no basis for existence outside of the mythic stories of the re-birth of the Israelite people out of some kind of escape from Egyptian bondage.The literal reading of the text takes it from wonder to a reading of obscure events that happened to obscure people who lived myriads of years before recorded time, for our purposes.The literalist insists on reading all text straight, forbidding it ever to dream.  Small wonder that the literal view of text is almost always rigid, dry, small and depressing. We have given up the nobility of allowing text to dream, to sing, to exult -- so that we can make the lame claim that what is described actually happened precisely in the dull, dreary detail of the text.  The literal reading of a text actually removes it from us.  I will not read sacred text this way.  The majority of sacred text is not in fact narrative -- it is poetry.  There's a reason for that.  Instead of fighting it and trying to tie it up and subduing it in our mundane, limited view of the world, we need to allow text to be free, to dream and sing and lift us out of our ordinariness.Moses was no person, but a literary device to to end of lifting us to aspire to better than we are."