Why is God not mentioned in the opening line of Pirkei Avot?

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. [Avot 1:1]

This line establishes the legitimacy of the Jewish tradition. We have dozens of names for God, but Sinai not one of them. Wouldn't this have been a wonderful occasion to stress Who everything comes from?

The Maharal addressed the issue:

"Moses received the Torah from God" would have implied that God's ability to transmit Torah was limited to Moshe as the receiver, which is not true.

A student learns Torah from a Rav, which creates a bond between them. Saying that Moses received the Torah from God implies this kind of bond, which is not respectful of God. Even though the Torah says in many places "And God spoke to Moses saying...", this doesn't imply the bond of Rav to student.

Emphasizing that Moses received the Torah "from Sinai" shows how integral the place (Sinai) was in this process.

God was speaking "to Himself" and it was Moses' responsibility to receive the Torah. It looked as if Moses was receiving the Torah "from Sinai" since God was not required to interact with him.

Are other explanations available?

My real question is: What would have been LOST by saying that Moses received the Torah from God?

  • off the cuff? All of Israel received the "Torah" from Hashem. But Moshe received the Oral Law at Sinai which makes it equal in value to the Torah that the people received. So the text is saying "the Torah which Moshe received at Sinai is equivalent to what the children of Israel received at Sinai". If we say "Moshe received it from Hashem" then the Oral law looks superior to that which the people received through Moshe at Sinai. Just a thought.
    – rosends
    Mar 1, 2019 at 20:59

2 Answers 2


Elsewhere the Talmud discusses in more detail this same process of disseminating the Oral law. In this version, Moshe receives the law directly from God. It seems nothing would be lost, because the same teaching is found with God at the front of the line.

Eruvin 54b

תנו רבנן כיצד סדר משנה משה למד מפי הגבורה נכנס אהרן ושנה לו משה פירקו נסתלק אהרן וישב לשמאל משה נכנסו בניו ושנה להן משה פירקן נסתלקו בניו אלעזר ישב לימין משה ואיתמר לשמאל אהרן רבי יהודה אומר לעולם אהרן לימין משה חוזר נכנסו זקנים ושנה להן משה פירקן נסתלקו זקנים נכנסו כל העם ושנה להן משה פירקן נמצאו ביד אהרן ארבעה ביד בניו שלשה וביד הזקנים שנים וביד כל העם אחד

The Gemara continues to discuss methods of Torah study. The Sages taught the following baraita: What was the order of teaching the Oral Law? How was the Oral Law first taught? Moses learned directly from the mouth of the Almighty. Aaron entered and sat before him, and Moses taught him his lesson as he had learned it from God. Aaron moved aside and sat to the left of Moses. Aaron’s sons entered, and Moses taught them their lesson while Aaron listened. Aaron’s sons moved aside; Elazar sat to the right of Moses and Itamar sat to the left of Aaron. Rabbi Yehuda disagreed with the first tanna with regard to the seating arrangements and said: Actually, Aaron would return to sit to the right of Moses. The elders entered and Moses taught them their lesson. The elders moved aside, and the entire nation entered and Moses taught them their lesson. Therefore, Aaron had heard the lesson four times, his sons heard it three times, the elders heard it twice, and the entire nation heard it once.

  • So Rebbe records the version which doesn't explicitly name Hashem in the Mishnah, and the version which does explicitly name Hashem he leaves as a Braisa? Why?
    – DonielF
    Apr 3, 2019 at 21:05
  • @DonielF judaism.stackexchange.com/a/101504/16706 well look further tho
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Apr 3, 2019 at 21:08
  • The text of the Braisa is not even close to that of the Mishnah. Thematically they're very similar, but the Braisa contains much more than the Mishnah.
    – DonielF
    Apr 3, 2019 at 21:10

This is a preliminary answer, I'll work on improvements B"N.

As you noticed, unlike the explicit text of the Torah that was advertised for all nations ('written on the rocks in 70 languages), that describes the process of the receiving of the Torah in details (Exodus 19 and on), Pirkey Avot is [a part of] the Oral Torah, intended exclusively for the Jews and carefully hidden within the long Seder Nezikim.

As such, it does not have to mirror the text of the Torah in explaining the process. It points to one specific quality of G-d to refer to in its beginning and Sinai is such a word that describes that status the best.

So "Sinai" in the Mishnah's text stands for a certain G-d's quality relevant to the understanding of the transmission of the Torah. (I'm currently checking out what quality).

To be continued....

  • There’s nothing this post says that the OP doesn’t acknowledge. Of course Sinai is there for a reason and is a placeholder for Hashem; you haven’t explained why.
    – DonielF
    Apr 2, 2019 at 1:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .