Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 29 November 2003 / 4 Kislev 5764

Torah Before Sinai

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Mordechai in Jerusalem

Dear Rabbi,

Please give me a clue about how the Patriarchs found out the details of the Torah before it was given at Sinai.

Dear Mordechai,

In G-d’s promise to give the Land of Israel to Isaac and his offspring, G-d explained the reason is "Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs" (Gen. 26:5). Rashi explains that "My Torahs" (plural) refers to the fact that Abraham kept both the Written and Oral Torah; "My decrees" refers to laws that are not based on human logic; "My commandments" refers to laws dictated by human morals; and "My safeguards" indicates that Abraham upheld even Rabbinical enactments aimed at guarding Torah law.

Rabbi Chaim of Velozhin in Nefesh HaChaim explains that just as Mankind can reach scientific conclusions through intellectual investigation, so too can Mankind reach spiritual conclusions through spiritual contemplation. If a person is sensitive enough, it is possible to reach even the hidden, esoteric depths of the Torah. This is what Abraham did. Through probing the wonders and marvels of the world, Abraham built up an awareness of G-d that eventually led to a complete and absolute understanding of His will.

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (referred to by the acronym "Natziv") adds a beautiful dimension to this idea. He writes that Sarah also arrived at this level of keeping the entire Torah, even before meeting Abraham. However, Sarah did so in a somewhat different way. While Abraham came to an absolute awareness of G-d through contemplation of nature, Sarah attained this awareness through introspection into her own soul. Sarah's sensitivity was so attuned that she used her own spiritual essence to come to an understanding of the mitzvot.

So, Abraham kept the Torah through the external wonders of nature and Sarah kept the Torah through the internal wonders of her soul. In a sense Abraham was keeping the Torah "from the outside in" and Sarah was keeping the Torah "from the inside out"! In this way they forged complementary paths that would serve as gateways for their offspring, as well as for Jews of all future generations, to find G-d and keep His Torah.

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