It is a basic and accepted belief in Orthodox Judaism that both the Torah Shebeksav (Written Torah) and the Torah Shebaal Peh were given on Har Sinai to Moshe. Considering this fact, why do we find numerous times in the Torah that Moshe (seemingly) did not know what to do al pi Torah Shebaal Peh?

For example, we find in Numbers 15:32-36 the story of a man found carrying wood on Shabbos. Moshe had to go ask Hashem what his fate should be because "כִּ֚י לֹ֣א פֹרַ֔שׁ מַה־יֵּעָשֶׂ֖ה לֽוֹ" "It was not specified what was to be done to him". If Moshe truly received the Oral Law from Hashem why did he need to ask Hashem what to do and why didn't he know what to do himself?

Another example of this problem is found in Parshas Emor where the M'kallel has cursed Hashem is temporarily placed in a guardhouse because "לִפְרֹ֥שׁ לָהֶ֖ם עַל־פִּ֥י יְהֹוָֽה" " until [his penalty] would be explained through the word of Hashem". Again the same question. there are more examples but the point is this is all very strange.

Perhaps one could attempt to answer by saying Moshe did this out of humility, but that is hard to accept as,

  1. Why only in these particular cases does he do so?

  2. This is not the way of humility because Moshe had been assigned as the leader of the Jewish people and even answered their questions, why would he abandon his post over a mere sign of humility? A Rabbi will NEVER say when they know the answer to a particular question "I don't know let's go and ask someone else"???

  3. The Pasukim state each time that the reason for Moshes asking G-d was that he didn't know what to do. The Pasukim is talking (Pashtus) from a third-person view independent of Moshe's thoughts, feelings, or calculations, and therefore is a fair source of what was really going on; that Moshe truly didn't know.

  • See RNH Wessely's commentary to Leviticus 24:10 (also quoted in RSR Hirsch's commentary to Leviticus 25:1)
    – b a
    Commented May 27 at 17:10
  • Ditto for yerusha and pesach sheini . .
    – Nahum
    Commented May 30 at 16:05
  • "It is a basic and accepted belief in Orthodox Judaism that both the Torah Shebeksav (Written Torah) and the Torah Shebaal Peh were given on Har Sinai to Moshe." Is it? This seems like an unsophisticated version of perhaps what is told to children, but over time we are exposed to the idea that the Torah as we know it was revealed over the lifetime of Moshe. That it was not given in its entirety, in the way we know of it, at Sinai. When we say that the entire Torah "was given at Sinai" we mean the entire Torah has the authority of Sinai behind it (i.e. it is fully divine in origin). Commented Jun 6 at 1:05

1 Answer 1


Of course, the verse had explicitly already said to give the death penalty for Shabbos violation; the only question was which form to use. Whereas for the blasphemer, it hadn't explicitly stated the penalty anywhere.

As for "didn't Moshe already know" ... and what about Moshe asking God about Pesach Sheni, or Tzlafchad's daughters ... simple answer is that when we say "at Sinai" we actually mean "and follow-on conversations over the course of the desert, until the Torah as we know it was fully compiled just before [or just after] Moshe's death."

An alternative would be that he was already taught everything, but some things weren't yet authorized to be given over to the people until a later date.


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