Was Moshe Rabbeinu obligated in mitzvos during the two periods of 40 days that he spent on Mount Sinai? Did he keep mitzvos (whether obligated to or not) during that time?

I ask because the Torah says (Devarim 9:9):

"I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water;"

And the Gemara says (Bava Metzia 86b):

R. Tanhum b. Hanilai said: One should never break away from [the] custom [of the place he is in]. For behold, Moses ascended on High and ate no bread, whereas the Ministering Angels descended below and ate bread.

This got me thinking: angels are also not (obligated in|capable of) mitzvos. So perhaps Moshe was not obligated to, and didn't, keep mitzvos then, either. Also, there are many mitzvos/halachos involved with eating, e.g. Kiddush, me'ah brachos, seudas Yom Tov (he was up there on Rosh Hashana, so apple in honey too, right? =)). If Moshe didn't eat, does that mean he wasn't fulfilling those mitzvos?


As has been pointed out in the comments and answers, much of the Torah and many of the mitzvos had not yet been given at the time Moshe was on the mountain.

So, to clarify my question: I'm not discussing which mitzvos Moshe was obligated in at that period of time (while not on the mountain).

I wish to know if Moshe kept those mitzvos he was obligated in, as well as if he kept mitzvos that he wasn't (yet) obligated in, as did the Patriarchs.

Even more specifically, I'm not looking for "svaros", but rather for sources in Rabbinic literature that mention or discuss this.

  • Can you explain R. Tanhum's statement? It sounds completely backwards. Both Moshe and the Angels "broke away" from custom in the instances he sited.
    – avi
    Jan 3, 2012 at 6:20
  • @avi, he refers to the custom of the place where one currently is. Moshe was in heaven, hence, he kept the customs of the angels, and vice versa. I've edited my question.
    – HodofHod
    Jan 3, 2012 at 6:21
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    I couldn't find it right now, but I remember someone asking a question about how Moshe knew if it were day or night on the mountain, and the answer was that he could tell based on the praises the angels were singing. If I remember correctly, the idea was that Moshe needed to know the time to know when to say Shema. Assuming I remembered it correctly, this would seem to indicate that Moshe still kept mitzvot while on the mountain. If someone knows a source for something even remotely similar, it would be helpful
    – Menachem
    Jan 4, 2012 at 5:06

2 Answers 2


You are not obligated in other mitzvot while you are entirely engaged in another one. However, according to the Rambam the exception is for talmud Torah.

So yes, he was obligated to do any of the mitzvot that he was commanded to do at that time. However, I'm not aware of any commandments that he missed out on.

Further, it says in Bamidbar that Gd sent a holy angel to help guide the Jewish people through the desert. Many commentators say that this refers to Moshe Rabeinu, and yet Moshe was still obligated to do his part in the Mishkan, so we see that Humans who are compared to angels are still required to do mitzvot, just as angels that are now human are not required to do mitzvot.

Lastly, the gemora says that one should not depart from the Minhag of the place they are in. However, your question is asking about changing what mitzvot you are obligated to keep or not. I think its very important (especially now adays) to not confuse Minhag with Mitzvah. Even if all of the above was not true, Moshe would still be obligated in the Mitzvot he was obligated in, regardless of where he was. Minhagim, is a different issue all together.

  • 1
    +1. But actually, talmud Torah does override many other mitzvos; for example, we find in the Gemara that Rav Yehudah used to pray only once every 30 days, "when he reviewed his learning" (and was therefore not as intensely involved with it as usual).
    – Alex
    Jan 3, 2012 at 16:46
  • Thanks, I've now specified that its according to Rambam. Though I question how accurate that statement about Rav Yehudah is. Did he also learn on Tisha B'av? Did he not pray on Yom Kippur?
    – avi
    Jan 3, 2012 at 16:55
  • Dunno about Tisha B'av, though since the issur to study then is only Rabbinic, maybe he held that his constant involvement in study overrides that. (Anyway, though, there are after all areas of Torah that it is permissible to study then.) As for Yom Kippur - maybe he timed things so that one of his reviews took place then? (By the way, it's not just Rav Yehudah; in the Yerushalmi, Berachos 1:2, there is an even more radical statement by R. Yochanan in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai, that "we who are constantly occupied with Torah study need not even interrupt for Shema.")
    – Alex
    Jan 3, 2012 at 17:12
  • I mention Yom Kippur, because you have Rosh Hashana and Sukkot right next to it, and can not wait 30 days. R. Yochanan's statement is not so radical. Shema is a type of Talmud Torah. If he said Tefilah, that would be a different story.
    – avi
    Jan 3, 2012 at 20:13
  • OK, but after all, the Torah obligation to pray on Yom Kippur really isn't different than any other day. (The reason I described R. Yochanan's statement as "radical" is because from the Yerushalmi there it seems that he meant "even Shema, and all the more so prayer," and also because of the contrast with R. Yehudah Hanassi, who at least took the time to "pass his hand over his eyes" and say the first verse of Shema (Berachos 13b).
    – Alex
    Jan 3, 2012 at 21:31

Although I have no source, it would seem that since that at the time of Mount Sinai the Torah had not yet been given, the Torah was kept still being kept voluntary like by Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaacov. The rishonim explain that before Matan Torah one kept the torah voluntary, but if a person felt that he would gain more in avoidas Hashem by not keeping it then he wouldn't have to. I have forgotten which ones, but some rishonim say that is why Yaacov married two sisters. If someone could comment the source it would be appreciated.

Anyway, therefore it makes sense that Moshe knew he was gaining more his way at that particular time. Of course, this is all only true before Matan Torah, after that obligations are in place on which we cannot use our Sevoro.

Secondly, he had a direct command from Hashem to come up, which is Doicheh everything else!

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    Both periods of 40 days happened after the 10 commandments. Not to mention that certain mitzvos were given before matan torah, e.g. Rosh Chodesh.
    – HodofHod
    Jan 3, 2012 at 6:42
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    "Both periods of 40 days happened after the 10 commandments." Yes but the torah had not yet been given, see Chasam Sofer Parshas Yisro as that is the reason why Moshe broke the Luchois in order to stop the Torah from making it a Halocho. "Not to mention that certain mitzvos were given before matan torah, e.g. Rosh Chodesh. " You are right but wasnt Oiver on any of those , the question is talking about Kiddush, Seudas Yom tov etc etc
    – Yehuda
    Jan 3, 2012 at 6:49
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    The question is referring to any and all mitzvos/halachos. The halachos about eating are just an example. I was under the impression that, at the very least, the Jews were obligated in the Ten Commandments from when they were given. Also, when was the Torah given, according to that definition? After the 2nd time that Moshe came down, on Yom Kippur?
    – HodofHod
    Jan 3, 2012 at 6:57
  • The Torah was still being given on the Plains of Moav 40 years after har sinai. However, the Mishkan, where rosh chodesh halachot, and daily halacho actually apply, was not built until a year after har Sinai.
    – avi
    Jan 3, 2012 at 7:02
  • The point of breaking the luchos was that Moshe was preventing klal yisrael from being immediately guilty of idolatry. As long as they had not received the (first set of) tablets, they weren't, strictly speaking, obligated. Following that view, that others have espoused on this thread, Moshe wasn't obligated while in Heaven. "Hashamayim shamayim L'Hashem", but "V'haaretz nasan l'vnei adam" hadn't happened yet.
    – user1095
    Jan 3, 2012 at 17:20

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