Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

G-d and Torah

Torah Authorship and Contradictions

I recently heard a claim that a human must have written the Torah because of the contradictions in it. The example given was when Abraham questions G-d about Sodom and Gomorrah and then later on when Abraham does not question G-d when he has to take his son as an offering. If we are suppose to do the will of G-d why did a prophet stop and question G-d and then later on not question G-d ?

An introduction is needed. The Torah (Hebrew bible) is certainly full of contradictions. The contradictions are fundamental to the Torah’s style. The Torah was written to be a guide to humanity – a guide for how a proper society should function. It addresses people individually and collectively, and covers all areas of life. A book with such a bold mission statement should be millions of pages long. Yet, the Torah is a small book. The actual information for this mission is contained in the “Oral Law” – a lengthy tradition that was originally oral, and slowly recorded over centuries. Its central work is the Talmud. The Torah is the highlights of this tradition, almost like a set of notes on lengthy lectures. As a good set of notes should be, the Torah tries to hint at all the information in a concise form. One of its methods is through contradictions, that upon analysis, will yield much more information. Lets use the case of Abraham as an example.

A fundamental principal of life contained in the oral law is that each person comes to this world with missions to accomplish. G-d will place people in situations,and give them the choice of how to react. The goal is to react in a way that G-d wants. Both of the stories we are discussing were tests of Abraham’s character. In the case of Sodom, there was a society that was clearly failing in their tests for a while. Generally, G-d will act with mercy towards people and societies. Mercy means that He will postpone any repercussion for wrong decisions made, in anticipation that things will improve. This approach teaches people that patience and kindness is a virtue that they should emulate. Often, G-d will change from a merciful approach to one of strict judgment. That would be when G-d feels that the World needs to hear the message that it can not tolerate evil. Often, it is possible for people to forestall judgement, and continue mercy, through prayer. This works by showing G-d that we are receiving the message even without seeing His strict judgment. This was what was happening with Sodom. The reason that G-d informed His intention to destroy Sodom to Abraham was clearly because he wanted Abraham to pray for Sodom. And that is what Abraham did. In the case of Isaac’s sacrifice, it was clearly a different kind of test. Here, there was no issue of judgment vs. mercy. Isaac had done nothing wrong. Here, G-d was looking to show the world the extent that allegiance to G-d must go. In this case, prayer would be completely out of place. It was action that G-d was looking for.

So we see that these contradictions are actually hinting to some very fundamental concepts of how we should approach what happens to us. We need to analyze what G-d is looking for us to do, before we respond to difficult situations. We must push aside our personal preferences, and without bias, figure out G-d’s expectations for us.

As you can see, the depth of wisdom in the Torah is unbelievable. I hope that you will find the right vehicles that will help you begin to unlock them.
Rabbi David Shenker

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