The Quest for Truth

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Quest for Truth

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or

(Note:  Rabbi Spero replies to Rabbi Shalman's Kol Shaarey Zedek article in the Forum)


In last week’s portion (Va’eschanan), and in this week’s portion, there is a lot of mention of the events that took place in the desert.

“Only take heed for yourself and your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And you shall impart them to your children and your children’s children, on the day when you stood before G-d at Chorev (Mt. Sinai; referring to the receiving of the Torah)” (Deut. Ch.4 v.9-10). “And G-d spoke to you from the midst of the fire” (ibid. v.12). “Face to face did G-d speak with you on the mountain” (Deut. Ch.5 v.4).

These and other verses recapitulate the event of the Exodus, slavery in Egypt, and the events in the desert.

What is the purpose of all these (seemingly) repetitious statements?

The Talmud says in Tractate Shabbos, the seal of G-d is emes—truth. This does not merely mean telling the truth; rather, this points to a much deeper idea: the idea that we must govern our lives according to the truth. That we must not make life decisions, or any decisions for that matter, by a “feeling”, or by the contemporary social climate.                          

When we make a decision it must be based on truth. That is how we know what is right.                         

So, what makes us as Jews keep our traditions? Is it because we are born as Jews? According to that line of thinking, if one is born to a child sacrifice cult, one must sacrifice children (obviously being born of a Jewish mother makes one Jewish regardless; the question here is what makes one identify as a Jew, i.e., keep Jewish law). Why don’t we believe in Mohammed or Jesus? Why not Buddha?

By G-d’s continued emphasis in the Torah of our heritage, His commandment to remember what happened when we received the Torah (that G-d spoke to us directly), and by His statement that this is a covenant that shall never be broken, He is letting us know that the Sinai experience was an experience unique in the history of mankind. Never before had a nation spoken directly to G-d. We know we received the Torah from him, not only because it says so in the Torah, but because we heard from our parents, who heard from their parents, who heard from theirs, about our receiving the Torah from G-d

Every other religion started with a man claiming he had a revelation or a prophecy direct from  G-d. Judaism says all the people heard it directly from Him. This historical distinction is evidence alone not only that G-d give us the Torah, but that our way of keeping it—from generation to generation— has remained the same for 3300 years. Within the strictures of the Torah we find the room for our cherished rule of eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim c.haim—these and these opinions are the words of the Living G-d*—but never have we deviated from the beauty and truth of the Torah.

*This obviously opens up the door to the question: “if there are so many differences of opinion in the Talmud, why do the Orthodox not tolerate difference of opinion from other “movements” of Judaism?

The answer to this is simple. Any argument stated in the Talmud is based on the belief that G-d gave the written and oral law at Sinai, the question being how do we decide practically. The Talmud relates  (Tractate Eruvin) that every law taught at Sinai had many different ways of being learned. Thus G-d gave the Torah in such a fashion that it has multifaceted aspects within it to be learnt. However, if we look at the area of disagreement within the Talmud we see it is relatively small. For example orders of certain prayers, whether there are certain Rabbinical restrictions regarding Shabbos or not, etc. There is no disagreement on the fundamentals. There is no opinion which states one can light a candle or perform an act of combustion on Shabbos. There is no opinion which states that conversion may be performed for the sake of a marriage, or may be performed without acceptance of written and oral law. There is no opinion which states we do not have to follow the Rabbinic restriction regarding cheese or wine made by a non-Jew, or any other Rabbinic decree for that matter.

The beauty and uniqueness of our Torah lay in its ability to have multifaceted expression which relates to the inherent diversity of each Jew, while at the same time, retaining the absolute imperative of its author, G-d.


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