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How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened?

How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened?



Could you explain to me how Jacob could study Torah "in the tents" if Torah was given to Moses centuries later? And could you explain how Jacob could study the Torah in which he, too, is a character?

No rabbi so far has provided me a satisfactory explanation.


This is discussed in many places in Talmud and Midrash. Not only Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also Noah and even Adam knew the Torah. Concerning Noah, the Torah itself writes clearly that G‑d told him to take onto his ark "of the animal which is ritually pure (tahor), seven, seven." Apparently, he was expected to know for himself that pigs are not ritually pure and cows are.

What was the Torah before it was given to us? The Torah is G‑d's wisdom, as He considers Himself, as He considers us and as He considers His world. It contains the wisdom with which He creates the world and manages it. Think of a concept paper that a producer might write before developing a video game or some other such product. The Torah contains exactly that (and much more1). Each of the lofty souls we mentioned was able to attain insight into this wisdom and thereby know the hiddenmost secrets of the universe.

Moses was special in several regards. First of all, Moses was able to see all of the Torah with perfect vision, crystal clear.

Secondly, Moses was empowered to bring this Torah to all the people, so that each person could receive the entire Torah, as he had, each on his own level, for all generations.

Thirdly, at Mt. Sinai the Torah was no longer just a wisdom, but a command. Until then, it was up to the individual whether he wished to practice it or not. From then on, every adult Jew became responsible to fulfill all the Torah.

So let's get back to your question: Does this mean that all these enlightened individuals saw their whole lives mapped out before them? Did Jacob, for example, see in the Torah the entire story of Joseph being thrown in a pit and sold as a slave by his brothers? Did Isaac see that Esau would try to kill Jacob?

Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz (1560?-1630, known as "The Shelah") discusses this in his classic work, Shnei Luchot HaBrit.2 He gives the following answer, based on the words of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman ("Nachmanides," 1194-1270):

As the Torah exists in the spiritual realms, it has more than one application. After all, the Torah is not just G‑d's knowledge and wisdom -- it is His will and inner desire. How that desire meets this world depends on many things. If, for example, the Jewish people would not have tolerated worship of a golden calf in their midst forty days after having heard the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need for a Tabernacle. Each one of us would have been a perfect temple for the Shechinah (Divine presence) and G‑dliness would have dwelt on earth in a much simpler way.

If, for another example, the spies had have come back from their tour of Canaan and discussed matters with Moses and let him make the report, we would have walked into the land with Moses himself at the lead and the Era of Moshiach would have begun right then and there -- with Moses starring as the final redeemer.

But the Jewish people chose a different way to channel the Divine Will. And so it is with every situation of free choice we are given: We choose then and there how the Divine Will is to be channeled into our world.

So what Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. knew, contemplated and studied was the Divine Will and Wisdom. They knew it, they taught it and they conducted their lives accordingly. What they didn't know -- and Moses did -- was how that Divine Will and Wisdom would be actualized in the material plane. Because that hadn't happened yet.

Rabbi Horowitz does not write this, but it would seem from what he and many others have written that the ultimate application of the Torah is that which we have here in our world. In other words, how things ended up in the end is just how He had them planned. Only that it had to be brought into reality this way through our free will.3

For example: The Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma4 contains a poignant description of how Adam, as he is banished from the Garden of Eden, accuses G‑d of having planned the whole thing from the beginning. His evidence? The Torah contains all the rules of ritual impurity pertaining to a dead human body. "So it is in Your plan that there be death in the world," Adam accuses G‑d. "Only that you wished to wipe Your hands on me!"

The question is, didn't Adam realize this before, when he originally learned this concept in the Torah? So we must answer that, yes, he knew there would be death. But it could have come about in many different ways. Now he discovered what was the hidden Divine Plan -- that it come about through his own free choice. At this point, Adam reached deeper into the Torah.

So the ultimate Torah is the Torah that Moses wrote over the period of forty years in the wilderness5: the actual implementation of Torah in our world. This Torah was distinct from the Torah known by the forefathers, because this Torah actually happened. And this is the Torah that is connected to the very essence of G‑d's wisdom that is one with Him.

As the master Kabbalists often say, "the highest finds its ultimate expression in the lowest."

See Tanya, volume 5 (Kuntres Acharon), p. 160, where Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this aspect of the Torah as the original source of every detail of existence is only an external aspect. Relative to the essential Torah, all created worlds are absolute nothingness.
Toldot Adam, Beit HaBechira 4.
Concerning this and the following concepts, see at length: Likutei Sichot vol. 5, page 66, including the footnotes and the references there. Also Kuntress Yud Shvat 5751, especially section 7 and on.
Parshat VaYeshev.
There are actually two opinions cited in the Talmud (Gittin 60a): One that Moses wrote scroll by scroll as it happened, and then, at the end of forty years, he sewed all the scrolls together. Another is that he simply wrote the whole thing all at once at the end of forty years. Until then, everything was taught orally. See Nachmanides in the preface to his commentary on the Torah for a full discussion.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (19)
November 29, 2016
Here's a thought... It didn't exist before it happened... It's more logical to conclude that it was recorded as it was lived or experienced. I'm thinking that the bulk of the Torah and the mystical tradition had been recorded during the reign of Nimrod and had been lost after the confusing of tongues and scattering of peoples... Which is why god sends Abraham to the holy land to be a pupil of Melchizedek, so that one day Moses can bring it back
Jarod Johnson
November 25, 2016
Torah means instruction, it was not written down as a book or scroll till Moses. The two tablets (written on both sides) were Israel's ketuba of which one was inside the arc of the covenant and the other outside by its side. Torah contains the instructions of righteous living the Creator gives His children. Thus some would say as such it is a Constitution.
Abraham follow Torah, Gen 26:5. This he learned from Shem and Noah. Thus Abraham lived a righteous life and the brit or covenant was made with him and his descendants through Yitzhak.
November 25, 2016
History of Torah.
When you say forefathers, weren't they all Noahides/ Ger Tzedek? Adam,Noah, Shem, Abraham,Moses, before the mount sinai?
Daniel Mosbacher
Carson City Carson City
April 11, 2016
Torah is the book ( scroll ) in which the law was written in.
The word of G-d spoken to Adam came directly out of the mouth of G-d for Adam and G-d communicated face to face and not by a book = (Torah.)besides it was never called the modern word Torah; but, the " Book" of the law..
January 24, 2016
Torah before Moses
It is clear that Torah was given in the garden to Adam. That it was not written down till Moses does not take away from this clear fact. In the Ten we are reminded to keep the Sabbath... given on the 7th day of creation and enjoined to Adam.
The Ten are in effect Israel's ketubah, which sadly it has broken more than once, but Torah was spoken since creation.
November 16, 2014
Your mental gymnastics utilized in this article bring discredit to your organization and faith. You avoid Biblical criticism by jumping into delusional fantasies of ancestor omniscience.
September 9, 2014
hidden torah
HaShem formed the world with the letters (Torah) could it be that the letters where the Torah in which through the wisdom of the letters adam, isaac etc were able to study example tzadeka (gimmel & dalet). ?!
December 11, 2013
The torah was not given in Genesis.
It is misleading to say something like "Ephraim studied torah with Jacob".

Better to say he studied with Jacob or Jacob taught him many things.
Sam Stein
January 12, 2013
There is Evidence for the Torah.
January 7, 2013
I think that the answer is forgetting 3 important verses in the bible: Psalms 147:4 and Isaiah 40:26 and Psalms 19:1-4 where it says that G-d has written His plan in the stars. When G-d takes out Abram to look into the heavens, He is teaching him his ways. If all the patriarchs knew what was in G-d's heart its because they could read it in the heavenly book of the stars.