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When the Torah refers to itself, it refers to itself in the singular. There are numerous verses, notably in Devarim. One notable example Devarim 31:16 (Sefaria English translation:)

"לָקֹחַ אֵת סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֹתוֹ מִצַּד אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם וְהָיָה־שָׁם בְּךָ לְעֵד׃"

Take this book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD your God, and let it remain there as a witness against you.

Yet, we see that there are five sefarim (books) and on parchment, we denote the separate books by leaving several lines of spacing between the end of one book and the start of the next.

I notice that Rash"i as well as the Gemarah refer to some of the separate books by names such as "Torat Kohanim" (Vayikra) and "Mishneh Torah" (for Devarim).

When did the concept of separating the Torah into Five books begin? And, why was there a requirement to write a Torah into five books? Is that Misinai (from Sinai)? It doesn't appear to be this way from the Torah's verbage. Even it is Misnai, why separate it into five books?

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  • I was just thinking about this earlier. +1
    – ezra
    Dec 24, 2018 at 4:14
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    See tana'im disagreeing about how many books there are/will one day be here, and some bylaws about book separation here.
    – WAF
    Dec 24, 2018 at 6:34
  • I thought 6 books
    – rosends
    Dec 24, 2018 at 11:47
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    Any answer, in very general terms, is probably going to be that each book is a complete topic. Something I've done for books of Nach, though not for Chumash yet, is to pick a sefer, allocate a big enough chunk of time, and lein the whole sefer from beginning to end - not rushing but not going too slowly. I've found that it gives me a larger perspective helps me internalize the sefer as a unit. Next time you fly I suggest this as an alternative to watching a random movie with a tiny screen and bad earphones.
    – Heshy
    Dec 24, 2018 at 19:58
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    I've found the amount of time needed to be linear in the number of pesukim, as expected. 30 minutes for the megillah (which you can use to calibrate your times), 2 hours for Yehoshua or Shoftim (could do this on a Shabbos afternoon), 5 hours for Shmuel (that one was an international flight). Make sure to have lots of water nearby.
    – Heshy
    Dec 24, 2018 at 20:01

5 Answers 5

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The first reference to the five-sefarim division of the Torah goes back to Philo (ca. 25 B.C.E.- 50 C.E.) in the opening of his De Abrahamo, in which he states that the Torah has five books:

τῶν ἱερῶν νόμων ἐν πέντε βίβλοις ἀναγραφέντων ἡ πρώτη καλεῖται καὶ ἐπιγράφεται Γένεσις ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου γενέσεως

The first of the five books in which the holy laws are written bears the name and inscription of Genesis, from the genesis or creation of the world, an account of which it contains at its beginning (Translation by F. H. Colson).

He also declares the same in the De Aeternitate Mundi.

Decades later, Josephus in Against Apion, 1:8 states:

οὐ μυριάδες βιβλίων εἰσὶ παρ᾽ ἡμῖν ἀσυμφώνων καὶ μαχομένων, δύο δὲ μόνα πρὸς τοῖς εἴκοσι βιβλία τοῦ παντὸς ἔχοντα χρόνου τὴν ἀναγραφήν, τὰ δικαίως πεπιστευμένα. καὶ τούτων πέντε μέν ἐστι Μωυσέως, ἃ τούς τε νόμους περιέχει καὶ τὴν ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρωπογονίας παράδοσιν μέχρι τῆς αὐτοῦ τελευτῆς

Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. (Translation by Henry St. John Thackeray)

The same expression is later found in the Yerushalmi (see Sotah 26a), Otios de Rabi Akiva (Nusach Alef), the Medrash Shocher Tov (and etc).

Despite these sources do not explain the reason behind that, it resembles to have something related with its content. This is what Jeffrey Tigay presents,

“The Torah in its final form is divided into five separate books because ancient scrolls could not contain a work of that length. Nevertheless, the books were not divided arbitrarily but at natural transition points.” (“Exodus,” in The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 95)

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    Thank you for the research. I'll try to sift through some of this today or tomorrow and comment further.
    – DanF
    Jan 2, 2019 at 14:30
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Tikuney Zohar (25) seems to equate the number of books in the Torah with the five ‘wings’ of an animal’s lungs. Saying too, that a Torah must be exactly perfect not more, less or exchanged. So to the lungs, if they are additional or lacking the animal is invalid.

And one who transgresses one has certainly the other.

כְּגַוְונָא דָא אִינוּן חָמֵשׁ כַּנְפֵי רֵיאָה, כְּגַוְונָא דַחֲמִשָּׁה חוּמְשֵׁי תוֹרָה, וּוַרְדָּא כְּגַוְונָא דְזֶה סֵפֶר דְּאִיהוּ סֵפֶר יְשָׁרִים, אִי אוּנֵי חַסִּיר אוֹ יַתִּיר אוֹ חֲלִיף, אִיהוּ אִמְרָא פָּסוּל, וּמָאן דְּעָבַר עֲלַיְיהוּ כְּאִלּוּ עָבַר עַל אוֹרַיְיתָא וַחֲמִשָּׁה חוּמְשֵׁי דִילָהּ, דַּחֲמִשָּׁה כַנְפֵי רֵיאָה וּוַרְדָּא אִינוּן שִׁית, דָּא ו', כָּל מָאן דְּעָבַר (על דא, כאלו עבר) עַל דָּא.

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The extract below from The Laws & Customs of Kerias Hatorah by Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein available at:

https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/understanding-the-divisions-of-the-parshiyos/#_ftn5

addressees part of the OP's question "When did the concept of separating the Torah into Five books begin?" as well as other aspects of the questions posed by the OP:

It is universally accepted that the Chumash is divided into five books, known as the five books of Moshe, containing the names 1) Bereishis; 2) Shemos; 3) Vayikra; 4) Bamidbar 5) Devarim. This division is mentioned in various places in the Talmud[fn7] which states “Chamisha Chumshei Torah/The five Chumashim of Torah.” It is likely attributed to Moshe Rabbeinu himself.[fn8] Nonetheless, we do not have a Talmudic source which points at the areas of division of the five books, and where their start and end points are located. Thus, while the general division of the Chumash to five books has Talmudic basis, its names and groupings of Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim is not all found in the Talmud.[fn9] Interestingly, a second opinion voiced in the Talmud[fn10] states that there are actually seven books, or seven divisions, in Chumash and not five.[fn11] This approach learns that the two verses of “Vayehi Binsoa Haaron” found in Parshas Behaalosecha is its own Sefer, and hence book four is Bamidbar, book five is “Vayehi Binsoa”, book six is “Vayehi Ha’am Kimisonanim,” and book seven is Devarim.[12]

Footnotes:

[7] Chagiga 14a; Megillah 15a and Rashi Megillah 29b; Nedarim 22b; Sanhedrin 44a; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:1 [50b]; Sotah 5:6; Yalkut Shimoni Toldos Remez 111; Mishleiy Remez 944; The concept of Chumashim is mentioned in Megillah 27a

[8] See Mishneh Kesef of Rav Yosef Even Kasafi [1200’s] p. 112 “We will never really know who was the first person to separate the Parshiyos and make the Torah into five parts, but most likely this was done by Moshe himself.”

[9] See Mishneh Menachos 4:3 who mentions Chumash Pikudin and Toras Kohanim; See Rav Menachem Kasher in Miluim Letorah Shleima 8:1

[10] Shabbos 116a “There are seven Sifrei Torah” Rashi ibid “The verses of Vayehi Binsoa Haron are their own Sefer, and it hence splits [Bamidbar] into three Sefarim.”; Yalkut Shimoni Mishleiy Remez 944; See Zohar Mishpatim p. 119b

[11] This is derived from the verse Mishlei 9:1 “Chatzva Amudeha Shiva.” [Yerushalmi ibid]

[12] Shabbos ibid

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According to בית אלהים, שער היסודות פרק לב, there are several possibilities.

Five book correlate to Adam, Noach, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov.

Or: Amraam, Yocheved, Aharon, Miriam, Moshe.

Alternatively corresponding to five places: Mitzrayim, Marah, Har Sinai, Ohel Moed, Aravos Moav.

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    What does it mean "correlate"? Why doesn't it correlate to me and my sons?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 16, 2020 at 22:07
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B"H

There's no indication in any Torah sources that I'm aware of that suggest that the Torah (books Moshe) was ever any number of books other than 5, and then divided up later

(There is an opinion that it's really 7, but that's different than saying it was divided up later, it's just another perspective, and many commentators say the 7 and 5 division is just different levels of the Torah)

Each book of the Torah has to be separated by 4 blank lines, and every Torah that's written has to be written based off of another Torah, all the way back to Moshe, so it doesn't seem possible that there was ever a time that they were one then divided up later The Rebbe address the significance of the 5 books of the Torah in Sefer Hasichos 5751, section 10 (pages 10 and 11)

In short, the Torah can be divided either into 5 books, or 7.

If one counts the two verses vayehi binsoa haaron, "when the Ark would travel.. Etc.", as some do, then the book of Bamidbar is divided into 3 sections - Bamidbar, Vayehi Binsoa, and the passage after it, "the nation was complaining".

It explains that that last book (of the Bamidbar division) is specifically all about negative things (Jews complaining, spies, korach, bilaam, minyan women etc etc), in order to elevate even mundane matters and make them part of the Torah.

An example it gives of this is a lever to lift up a house; in order to properly lift it up, it has to be lifted from the bottom. So too in order for the Torah to properly elevate the world, it has to elevate the lowest elements.

This is the idea of 7 (books), corresponding to all of the seven sefiros, even those that give room for "the other side", in order to elevate even that.

In general there are 7 types of Jews total, corresponding to the 7 branches of the menorah. This Includes ALL types, even types of Jews that aren't necessarily "holy".

5, however, only corresponds to the sefiros of chesed through hod, the sefiros that don't give any room for evil or anything "outside" of holiness.

In terms of the Jews, it says in pirkei Avos chapter 2 that rabbi yochanan Ben Zakaria had 5 students.

But did he, who started yavneh and it's wise ones, and continued all of Torah learning in exile after the churban, only have 5 students?

The sicha says no, but that all of the students, learners of Torah, that he had are all divided into 5 general categories.

This is only referring to categories of torah learning, unlike the 7 general types which includes even types that aren't directly involved in holiness.

So the 7 books of the Torah division represents how the Torah elevates even the "lower" level of Jews, all 7 types, both holy and not, while the 5 books division of the Torah represents how the Torah exists just in a state of holiness -- corresponding to the first 5 sefiros only, and the 5 categories of students of Torah (rabbi yochanan ben zakai is said to be eternal in this context the 5 categories of students etc)

It goes into a lot more detail about the significance of the divisions of 5 or 7 books corresponding to the avoda we do with ourselves, or with others, and lots of more details; see there.

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