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I was asked this question the other day by someone and didn't know how to answer him. How did Moshe Rabbeinu know the stories of Adam Harishon and Chava? What about Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu?

Did Moshe rely on previously written sources? Or were stories handed down orally? Or was he just divinely inspired to write down these stories?

What does Chazal have to say about this?

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    Traditional Jewish belief is that G-d dictated these stories to Moshe word for word, like he did the rest of the Torah.
    – Joel K
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:35
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    The Rambam in his introduction to the Mishnah in perek Cheilek writes that G-d said everything to Moshe. See also Hilchos Teshuva 3:8
    – Shmuel
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:36
  • See: chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/2625329/jewish/…
    – Shmuel
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:36
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    @Shmuel looks like you're equipped to write an answer.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 14:40

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While I agree with Yaacov Deane's answer, I want to add that Hashem does quote sources in a few places. So, while Moshe didn't need the earlier texts, G-d in His Wisdom did at times choose to use them.

  • Bereihis 5:1 refers to the Book of the Descendents of Adam. Bereishis Rabba 25:1-4 takes this as a literal book.
  • Shemos Rabba 5:22 has Moshe in Egypt reading about the Flood in an already-existing book of Bereishis.
  • Similarly Rashi (Gittin 60a "katuv") talks about pre-existing books about Creation, Noach, and Avraham. Although it differs from the above by implying multiple books. (The Ramban, for example, cites the medrash to say that Genesis was one book by Moshe's day.)
  • Bamidbar 21:14: Concerning this is is said in the Book of the Wars of Hashem, “He gave at the Reeds (Sea) and the valleys of Arnon...."

So there was a written tradition to draw on, in addition to the aforementioned oral one. And even know it wasn't necessary for the Author to be able to write the history of centuries earlier, in a few places, He did.


There are also numerous other scrolls that Moshe wrote that also get quoted in the Torah. This is a slightly different topic, so I will just mention their existence. Shemos 24:7 speaks of the existence of a Seifer haBeris, which existed already even though the Torah hadn't been (according to R Yochanan) or at least most of it (Reish Laqish). Similarly, the narrative about Bil'am is described in the gemara as being its own book. (As is Iyov, but we are talking about material Hashem quotes in the Torah.)

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  • Even when there were preexisting books, it's possible that G-d adapted them rather than a straight quote. The original version of parshas parah given at Marah and written in the Sefer Habris probably referred to Nadav rather than Elazar and then when Hashem said it again on 1 Nissan (after they died) He changed it.
    – Heshy
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:00
  • Hi Micha. Sefer HaBrit is referring to Ma’ayan HaChochmah. This is again a Sefer that was via an Angel at Chorev. If you haven’t looked into it, it’s incredible & you would love it. Regarding the Bilaam and Iyov teachings, this is discussed in much more detail in Sefer HaMefoar by Rabbi Shlomo Molcho, HY”D. One of the details he points out there is that this is the actual backstory for the Torah containing 7 books, in contrast to the teaching it is comprised of 5 books. And this relates to the 2 overturned Nun’s found in the Sefer Torah. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:33
  • Additionally, tradition teaches that engraved on the staff of Moshe was the undivided text of Sefer Bereshit. That this was the basis for the entire creation. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:37
  • You are also not mentioning Moshe Rabbeinu’s book titled, the Sword of Moshe (חרבא דמשה) which relates both to what Moshe used to smite the Egyptian and also what he learned in the Yeshiva that was established in Goshen when Yaacov Avinu came there at the time of Yosef HaTzaddik being Viceroy to Pharoah. That ’Sword’ also relates to the teachings associated with the flaming sword placed at the entrance to Gan Eden. It is possible that this is the book referred to as the book of G-d’s Wars. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 20:07
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Although there are traditions of Torah being taught and handed down prior to Moshe writing down the Torah, the standard Jewish belief is that every word of the Torah was composed by G-d.

For example the Talmud in Sanhedrin says:

אמר כל התורה כולה מן השמים חוץ מפסוק זה שלא אמרו הקדוש ברוך הוא אלא משה מפי עצמו זהו כי דבר ה' בזה If someone says all of the Torah is from Heaven except this verse that the Holy One Blessed be He did not say but rather Moshe said it on his own, this is "because he has demeaned the word of Hashem"

There are two ways you can understand this. Either G-d dictated to Moshe what to write, or Moshe may have chosen words in the first instance but G-d had to approve every verse before it could be included.

Ramban (Introduction to the Torah) states clearly that G-d dictated the Torah to Moshe who wrote it down:

אבל זה אמת וברור הוא שכל התורה מתחלת ספר בראשית עד 'לעיני כל ישראל' נאמרה מפיו של הקב"ה לאזניו של משה, כענין שנאמר להלן: "מפיו יקרא אלי את כל הדברים האלה, ואני כותב על הספר בדיו" But this is true and clear that all of the Torah from the beginning of Genesis until 'L'einei kol Yisroel' was said from the mouth of G-d to the ears of Moshe, in the way that it is said later on (in Jeremiah 36:18) "from his mouth called out to me all of these words and I wrote them down on a scroll with ink."

As such, Moshe--regardless of what he may have already known about Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov--only wrote down what G-d told him to write about them.

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There are different sources that tell us explicitly that G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu, and that Moshe Rabbeinu did not anything by himself, see for example the Abarbanel on Devarim 34:5.

Rabbi Yanki Tauber, writes in "The Divine and the Human in the Torah", a compilation of adapted lessons from the Lubavitcher Rebbe the follows:

The Torah, in its entirety, was transmitted to Moses from G‑d in a manner which we call “speech,” although we cannot comprehend the manner of its transmission, only Moses, to whom it was transmitted; he was like a scribe to whom a text is read and he writes it down… So, one who maintains that the Torah is not from G‑d, even a single verse, or a single word—if he says that that Moses said it from his own mouth—he denies the Torah…

Furthermore, everything that Moshe learned, was learned directly from the mouth of Hashem, as stated in the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 47:1:

'Inscribe those words for yourself [for according to those words I have formed a covenant with you and with Israel'] As it is stated: 'I write for them the great things of My law like strange things they are considered.' When God revealed Himself at Sinai to give the Torah to Israel, He said [taught] to Moses the following order: Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and Aggadah, as it says : "God spoke all these words, saying", even what a student will ask his teacher. God then said to Moses, after he had learnt it from the mouth of G-d, "Teach it to Israel".

The Daat Zkenim on Shemos 21:1 writes:

We find something similar in Deuteronomy 1,1: אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה, “these are the words which Moses had spoken, etc.” where we cannot understand this as something unconnected to what preceded it, but the letter ו is omitted as we are dealing with a different Book of the Torah, one that had not been dictated to Moses, but which G–d had approved after the event as deserving to be part of the written Torah. In Genesis 2,4 the words אלה תולדות השמים והארץ, “these are the generations of heaven and earth are separated from the prehistoric period when the Torah had described the tohu vavohu which had preceded the creation of light.

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This is a good question and one that is important to have clear.

Like Joel mentioned to you in the comments, tradition teaches that Moshe received the entire Torah including its oral teachings at Mount Sinai.

But together with that is the idea mentioned in Midrash and according to many, like the Vilna Gaon for example, that prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the letters were all continuous, without breaks. It was via G-d speaking the words to Moshe that the proper breaks and reading became fixed (for us).

But in a historical context, much of the teaching was already present in the continuous format. This is what was taught, for example, in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, which the Avot attended as did Moshe Rabbeinu according to Midrash.

It is in this context that we also learn that the Avot, meaning Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov, kept the entire Torah prior to its being commanded to us at Sinai. They had access to it and knew it.

This same teaching was also passed down via Chanoch and Metushelach like is found in Sefer Chanoch. It was also recorded in Sefer Noach, what Noach learned with his sons in the Ark. And the same tradition was passed down to Noach from the teachings which were received by Adam after the sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and its opposite. That teaching is recorded in Sefer Raziel HaMalach, also called Sefer Toldot Adam and the Book of Primordial Man.

In Midrash, this same angel is the one who came to teach Avram (Avraham) when he was a very young child. This is indicated via the identical gematria for the names Avraham (אברהם) and Raziel (רזיאל). And it is also the same number for all G-d’s positive commandments in the Torah, namely 248, which correspond to the limbs of the male body. This book is called Sefer Yetzirah.

It is also related to the spear (רמח) used by Pinchas at the sin of Zimri and Kozbi. Zimri sinned via defilement of the Milah, the sign of the Covenant between G-d and Avraham. And according to Midrash, that is precisely where Pinchas thrust the spear.

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