"Rabbi, do you really think the Torah is to be taken literally? Isn't it just a nice book of legends?"
"And do you really believe the story of Esther?"
Jonathan's festive Purim meal had begun.
As he slowly recovered from this onslaught and began to attempt to offer some answers, he quickly realized that his words were falling on deaf ears. He was experiencing the famous statement of Rav Chaim Volozhin (circa 1800) to a student who had strayed from Judaism:
"I would be happy to answer your questions," Rav Chaim told him, "but it seems that your questions aren't questions; they are statements. You're not really interested in hearing answers."
The woman at the table skillfully changed the subject and the rest of the meal continued very nicely. Songs were sung. Words of Torah were exchanged. And everyone went home having had a pleasant experience.
But Jonathan was still disturbed. Why hadn't she listened? Was there something so illogical in what he was saying? Then he realized what the problem might have been. He didn't really have the answers himself. He was lacking an expansive and thorough philosophy of Judaism.
Too often Jews continue to be observant but are weak in a deeper understanding of what they're doing in their observance.
This is a contributing factor to why many non-religious Jews consider the Torah archaic and old-fashioned, believing that the Torah is not for free thinking, rational people. Thus any argument for the validity of Torah is automatically fundamentally flawed. They may not be able to counter an argument, but they assume that the Torah's argument must be wrong.
What can be done?
For one thing, we can begin by making sure that all of our children are grounded in basic Jewish philosophy. In our day and age, simple faith just isn't enough for guaranteeing that our children will remain observant. It certainly isn't enough to influence others. If children grow up with a strong understanding of our beliefs then perhaps we will gain the respect we deserve. The next generation will be looked upon as articulate and wise.
The most important fundamental that needs to be taught in schools is the concept of the uniqueness of the Jewish people and religion. It is only in such a fashion that we can guarantee that our children will not be swayed by cults and arguments against Judaism. By raising a generation of proud, appreciative, philosophically-educated Jews, we will have created a respectable reputation for Judaism in the process.
The Torah states this explicitly. This is what is meant by the verses in our Parsha, Parshat V'etchanan:
"You shall safeguard and perform them (Mitzvot), for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, 'Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!' For which is a great nation that has a God Who is close to it, as is Hashem, our God, whenever we call to Him? And which is a great nation that has righteous decrees and ordinances, such as this entire Torah that I place before you this day? Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children's children - the day that you stood before Hashem, your God, at Horeb, when Hashem said to me, 'Gather the people to Me and I shall let them hear My words, so that they shall learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and they shall teach their children.'" (Devarim 4:6-10)
The rationale and logic of the authenticity of the Torah, as stated in these verses, is far superior to the claims of other religions. It is the Sinai Revelation that distinguishes us as the only authentic religion in the world. We are the only religion to claim that God appeared to the entire nation in establishing His laws. Ours was a national revelation. Other religions are based solely on one individual person's account of God's supposed instructions to him or her, and that person persuaded the masses to follow him. (See Introduction to Sefer HaChinuch for further study. See also Rambam in Yesodei Torah, Chapter 8.)
There is a story told about a Chassidic Rebbe who died without naming a successor. Both of his sons claimed to be the new Rebbe and a dispute arose.
One day, one of the sons gathered the entire town into the shul and made the following announcement: "Last night, my father came to me in a dream and told me to inform the people that I am to be the new Rebbe."
The people were thrilled that the rivalry would now end. Suddenly, one of the elders of the town stood up and said, "If your father wanted us to believe that you should be the new Rebbe, he should have come to us in our dreams and not to you in yours!"
If God wants us to believe that any person is His prophet, he must come and tell us. He can't expect us to rely on a trust in a "righteous" person. There are liars, well-meaning deceivers, and scoundrels in this world. Yet, all religions, besides Judaism, began with only an individual's (or small group's) account.
Today we are not experiencing the lavish praise from the gentile nations as described in Parshat V'etchanan. If we are not, then to some extent it must be due to a lacking on our part of transmitting properly the power and meaning of the Sinai Experience to our children. This is what the verses suggest. (See Ramban on 4:9 there.) The Sinai Revelation was intended to be a lasting, convincing force for all Jews and for all mankind, for all times. If we are failing in our dedication toward maintaining this ideal, this needs to be corrected. We must stress the uniqueness of the Sinai Revelation, making the claims of the truth of Torah very logical and plausible.
When Jews transmit and recall the Sinai Revelation to their children and to all generations, then all nations of the world will say:
"Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation! For which is a great nation that has a God Who is close to it, as is Hashem, our God, whenever we call to Him? And which is a great nation that has righteous decrees and ordinances, such as this entire Torah that I place before you this day?" (Devarim 4:6-8)
Perhaps we are failing in the rest of the section (Devarim 4:9-10):
"Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children's children -- the day that you stood before Hashem, your God, at Horeb, when Hashem said to me, "Gather the people to Me and I shall let them hear My words, so that they shall learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and they shall teach their children.'"
In addition to the pivotal Sinai approach, we need to become masters of Jewish philosophy. Our children will then see the profundity, logic and beauty in Torah, and we will produce a generation described as a "wise and discerning people."