Rashi (to Ex. 18:13) cites Mechilta that "the next day," when Yisro saw Moshe judging the people and offered his advice about appointing inferior judges, was the day after Yom Kippur. Part of his proof of this point is:

'שהרי קודם מתן תורה אי אפשר לומר (פסוק טז) והודעתי את חקי וגו

Before the giving of the Torah it was impossible to say (verse 16), “and I make known the statutes, etc.,” [since the statutes had not yet been given].

How so? Previously (commentary to 15:25), Rashi has informed us that Hashem already gave the Jews some mitzvos at Marah: Shabbos, the Red Heifer, and civil laws. (In the commentary to Deut. 5:16, he also adds the mitzvah of honoring parents.) In the weeks before that they had been taught the twenty mitzvos (according to Rambam's enumeration) in Parashas Bo, including the topics of Rosh Chodesh, the Pesach offering, Yom Tov, and sanctifying firstborn sons and animals. Going back even further, they had the seven Noachide laws and all of their corollaries, plus the various mitzvos and customary practices that they had received from the Avos and from Amram (see Rambam, Hil. Melachim 9:1).

So they had quite a respectable amount of Torah law to cover already by the time they arrived at Mount Sinai. Why, then, does Rashi consider it impossible that Yisro could have seen Moshe judging and instructing the people before the Torah was given?

  • This doesn't answer your question, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the Mitzvot given at Marah were only given to learn, not to do. They were re-commanded after Matan Torah. - Likutei Sichot 21, pg. 142, note 24. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14944&pgnum=155
    – Menachem
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 14:47
  • In note 15, the Rebbe says that Rashi agrees with the opinion in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 56B) that the Jews were also re-taught the 7 Noahide laws at Marah, but Rashi didn't include it, since they already knew those laws, and didn't have to study them: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14944&pgnum=153
    – Menachem
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 14:51

1 Answer 1


Nimukei Rashi (who spends several pages discussing this) understands that it was clear to Rashi already from the sequence of events as they are related in Sefer Devarim that this episode of Yisro's advice happened right after Moshe descended from Har Sinai (which is what "ויהי ממחרת" is referring to). However, it is not entirely clear which descending this took place after, for Moshe descended from the mountain several times.

To clarify this, Rashi writes:

הרי קודם מתן תורה אי אפשר לומר (פסוק טז) והודעתי את חקי וגו', ומשנתנה תורה עד יום הכיפורים לא ישב משה לשפוט את העם

In other words, it had to be post-Matan Torah and also with enough time for Moshe to be around judging the people, which is not until he descended the final time on Yom Kippur.

But that which Rashi is learning from "וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת חֻקֵּי הָאֱ־לֹהִים וְאֶת תּוֹרֹתָיו" that this was post-Matan Torah is not because there were no laws to be taught until then, for as you noted, there were laws beforehand as well. Rather, Rashi is learning specifically from the language of "וְהוֹדַעְתִּי", which implies that he was "making known" to the people things that were previously unknown to them.

That is, the laws of Marah and other laws that they already had were already well-known, and even if they needed clarification in minor points or reiteration, this doesn't warrant the language of "וְהוֹדַעְתִּי". It implies that Moshe was delivering laws that were completely knew to the people, which could only be after he had received the Torah.

  • In addition, you would have to say that Moshe was receiving tons of questions and disputes only 49 days into their journey...
    – avi
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 11:08
  • @avi: two Jews, three opinions, no?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 16:02
  • @Alex how many of the mitzovt you listed above would actually be applicable in those 49 days that would cause Yitro to think that Moshe would be overwhelmed with his current pace?
    – avi
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 16:06
  • @avi: and after the giving of the Torah, how many were applicable either? As an extreme example, the Gemara (Kiddushin 40b) points out that they studied the laws of Yovel for over a century before they first came into effect. But lots of other mitzvos also went into effect only when they entered Eretz Yisrael; others may simply not have been relevant when all of their daily needs were taken care of by Hashem. The point is that they still needed to learn and understand, and have their disagreements (on understanding the halachah, not necessarily on practical applications thereof) resolved.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 16:28
  • @Alex Most of Mishpatim would be relevant in the Desert, and Yitro would know about them, having them carved into stone by Moshe.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 16:39

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