Project Genesis

The Calendar and Holidays (incl. Sabbath)


Torah Given in Installments

Question: I was wondering what exactly we received at Mt Sinai. I know that we heard the Ten commandments. I am also aware of the fact that there is a dispute in the Talmud as to how the parts in the Torah after Mt Sinai were recorded. I therefore assumed that in addition to the Ten commandments we also received the written scroll by Moses up till and including the Torah portion of Yisro. However recently I have come across things that may indicate differently but I am not sure. If you could answer this and tell me the sources that would be great.

Answer: Thanks for your very important question. There were several different “receptions” at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps the very first was when we said, “We will do and we will hear.” That is, we accepted on ourselves that we would keep whatever commandments we are given. We didn’t know what they were yet, but at that moment we became G-d’s servants.

The first direct reception was the words that we heard from G-d (so to speak). Though the simple reading would be that that included all the ten commandments, our sages say that only the first two commandments were actually heard directly. The most obvious source for this fact is to note that G-d is in the first person in the first two (I am Hashem your G-d…no other gods before me…), whereas in the last eight he is in the third person (Don’t take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain…The seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your G-d…)

The last eight would have been said to them directly also. Only, they asked Moshe to listen on their behalf. So too for the rest of the Torah. During the forty days that Moshe was on Mt. Sinai, G-d taught him the basic laws and details of the entire Torah. He received the Torah on our behalf. It was parceled out to Israel as it was needed, over the ensuing forty years. As you pointed out, the Talmud in Gittin 60a has a dispute whether the Torah was written down as it was taught, in pieces, or was written only at the very end when it was complete. As to what was given before Mt. Sinai, that is a dispute between the commentaries of Rashi and the Ramban. On Exodus 24(7) “He took the book of the covenant and read it before the people”, Rashi explains that the book of the covenant was the Torah up to the part about the giving of the Torah, plus the Mitzvos that were already commanded at Marah. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, though, say there that the “book of the covenant” was read after the giving of the Torah, and contained the laws at the end of Parshas Yisro and in Parshas Mishpatim.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

1 Follow-up »

  1. Thank you for your response. Whether according to Rashi or Ramban, when did god actually dictate the Torah to Moses (meaning the part they received at Mt Sinai)?. Was it during one of the trips up the mountain during the first few days at Mt Sinai? Have you seen any opinion on that?

    The Midrash says that God taught the Torah to Moses during the forty days that he was on the mountain after the Ten Commandments. It is not exactly clear what was included in that; obviously, all the words of what we call the Torah could not have been given then. For instance, the story of the meraglim (spies) was surely not taught to Moses until after it happened! Presumably, he was taught the fundamental concepts and laws of the Torah at that time.

    Best wishes,

    Michoel Reach

    Comment by ATR — June 26, 2008 @ 1:27 pm

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