How I Survived a Challenge at 35,000 Feet

The book of Exodus is a turning point in Jewish history. This week’s Torah portion (Exodus 1:1 - 6:1) describes how the twelve diverse sons of Yaacov were forged into a unified nation.

In Hebrew, the book of Exodus is called “Shemot “which means “Names.” After listing the names of the twelve sons of Yaacov the Torah proclaims that the total number of people who “emerged from Yaacov were seventy” (Exodus 1:2).

The number “seventy” is mentioned three times in the Torah. First in Genesis 46:27 where it says, “all the people from Yaacov household who came to Egypt were seventy” The second time is in this week’s portion.

The third time in Deuteronomy 10:22 and it is this verse which the Passover Haggadah quotes to recall the exodus story and how “your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven”

Population experts calculated that the exponential growth of seventy people in 210 years could surpass 2 million people. This is similar to the number mentioned in the Torah based on Exodus 12:37.

On a flight to Israel, I was seated next to an evangelical Christian. At 35,000 feet he challenged me to accept the New Testament. I told him I couldn’t because the New Testament contradicts the Torah. “Show me once place” he demanded. After reviewing with him the three places the Torah mentions seventy people going down to Egypt, I asked him to explain why the New Testament says “75 people” in Acts 7:14.

At first, he was speechless, then he attempted to offer numerous rationalizations to explain the discrepancy. Then he loudly declared that it doesn’t matter since there is no way to know the actual historical number. I responded, “you mean it’s not provable like the historical fact that Yaacov is buried in the city of Hebron as mentioned in Genesis 49:29-50:14.” “Exactly” he agreed,

I then showed him another New Testament contradiction where Acts 7:16 mistakenly says Yaacov was buried in the city of Shechem 50 miles north of Hebron. He was dumbstruck and didn’t say another word to me the entire flight.

King Solomon said the Torah is “a tree of life to those who take hold of it” (Proverbs 3:18). This is why knowledge of the Torah is the best way to survive missionary challenges which are consistently based on misquotes, mistranslations and even fabrications.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz