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I apologize for the fact that this threatens to be the most ignorant question ever asked on this site, but I'm not sure where else to ask it.

My understanding is that God gave the entire Torah to Moses, and that this is recounted in the Book of Exodus. But subsequent books of the Torah seem to take place at later times. So: Am I wrong about Moses having gotten the entire Torah during the time period recounted in Exodus? Or did the Torah, at the time of its giving, include detailed historical accounts of events that had not yet happened? Or have I misunderstood things so totally that my question makes no sense?

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This is an excellent question and there is nothing to be embarrassed of. The traditional approach states that the entire Torah was given to "Moses" at Sinai (Rashi beginning of chapter 25 Vayikra). But as you already pointed out, how come other commandments weren't written down only later?

The Ramban grapples with the question in his introduction to sefer Devarim. He suggests that even though Moses learnt everything at Sinai, the nation of Israel didn't receive everything at once, but was taught in the order of the Parshiyos. Furthermore, according to Ramban some Mitzvos weren't even taught to the yotzei mitzraim (the generation that witnessed the exodus) only to their children as these Mitzvos only applied to the generation that was about to enter the land of Israel, and was irrelevant to the previous generation.

Regarding your other question when the entire Torah was written down (at Sinai or after the "forty years"). The traditional approach states it happened right before Moses's death, where at least most parts of the Torah were written down. The Ramban in his introduction to his commentary writes that according to the position of "megila megila nitnah" (Gittin 60a), when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai he wrote from the beginning of the Torah til after the Mishkan (which means the end of Shmos). The rest he finished before he died. According to the other position that "Torah chasumah nitnah" (which means the Torah was written at once), everything from beginning to end was written before he died (see Ramban Dvarim 31:9. he takes the position of "Torah chasumah nitnah" and that the entire Torah was written after forty years). But note that according to both positions (according to the Ramban's understanding) none of the narratives were written before they had occurred. This strongly suggests that the biblical narratives were written only after they had occurred. See also Rashi Shmos 24:7 regarding the sefer habris and what it contained. Rashi seems to agree with this approach.

There is no reason to say that Moses wrote down the bibilical stories prophetically before it happened. This idea is clearly stated in the Gemara (bava basra 15a), "is it possible that Moses is dead and he writes 'And Moses died there' (Dvarim 34:5), but Moses wrote until here, from here on Joshua wrote." If we assume that Moses wrote the entire Torah at Sinai and predicted stories that have not happened yet, what is the big deal with Moses writing "and Moses died there"? This is a clear indication that Moses did not write down the biblical stories before it happened but only afterwards.

  • There are other approaches to solve this problem, but i wasn't able to get my hands on them yet! When i find them i'll add them to my answer. – Bach May 22 '17 at 0:44
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    "The traditional approach states that the entire Torah was given to 'Moses' at Sinai." Is this so? Can you source it? – Double AA May 22 '17 at 1:18
  • When you say that (according to the traditional approach) the "entire Torah" was given at Sinai ---- does that include the historical parts that didn't happen until later? In other words, according to this approach, did Moses, after Sinai, know all these details about his own future? (Once again, I do apologize if I'm being dense here.) – WillO May 22 '17 at 1:55
  • … or after his death (e.g. the book of Samuel). – msh210 May 22 '17 at 6:04
  • @WillO i added the answer to your comment into my answer. check it out. – Bach May 22 '17 at 13:49

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