How the Torah was Taught and Transmitted

Part 1:

From Moses to Joshua

As I have demonstrated in the earlier articles of this series, the Torah consists of two main parts: the Written Torah, and the Oral Torah. Both together make up the way of life that is Judaism.

Hashem taught Moses both the Oral Torah and the Written Torah in their entirety, in the Sinai Desert. Moses taught both to the Children of Israel. In this article, I hope to discuss that process, with Hashem’s help.

Maimonides says that even though some of the Commandments were given to the Patriarchs, that is not the reason we obey those Commandments. For example, Hashem commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and all his household, and to command his children to do so as well, and to continue that commandment for all generations. Nevertheless, the reason we keep that Commandment is because Hashem commanded us to do so when He gave us the Torah.

Likewise, the reason Jews may not eat meat plucked off a live animal is not because it was commanded to all descendants of Noah. The Children of Noah must keep that Commandment because it is part of the Noahide Covenant with Hashem, and Jews must keep it because it is part of the Torah, which is our Covenant with Hashem.

We keep the Commandments because they are in the Torah, and because Hashem
commanded that all the Children of Israel keep those Commandments.

A few of the Commandments were given to us before the Written Torah was given us. For example, Hashem gave us the Commandment of the Passover Sacrifice in Egypt, as thanks to Hashem for passing over our houses and killing only the Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 12:3-13). And before we could have the Holiday of Passover on the fifteenth of the month of Nisan, we first had to receive the Commandment to establish the months of the year (Exodus 12:2). Before we reached Mount Sinai, where Hashem gave us the Torah, we received the Commandments of Circumcision, Sabbath, Tefillin, Redeeming the Firstborn, and others.

All these were given us orally only. We as yet had no Written Torah. But we already had these parts of the Oral Torah.

In other words, we were actually given parts of the Oral Torah before we were given the Written Torah.

At Mount Sinai Hashem caused many great miracles to take place. We saw no image or form of G-d, because G-d has no image or form. We saw a great fire that reached Heaven. We saw sounds, a feat that is so mind-boggling that we cannot even understand what that means. We saw evidence that Hashem created the universe, and is Master of the universe, and can do whatever He wants in the world.

Those who stood at Mount Sinai heard the voice of Hashem tell Moses to teach us the Torah. They also heard the first two of the Ten Statements (mistakenly called «Ten Commandments» by those who mistranslated the Bible for the Christians) spoken by Hashem Himself. It was too difficult to withstand, so the Children of Israel begged Moses to ask Hashem to tell them to Moses, who would repeat the rest to the people.

So the Children of Israel heard the first two directly from Hashem, and the other eight through Moses.

Then Moses went up the mountain, was taken into Heaven, and studied there with Hashem, learning the Torah directly from Hashem. That statement in itself demonstrates that Moses studied the Oral Torah there, since the Written Torah could simply have been handed to Moses, and could have been studied later. Evidently, there was something more than just the Written Torah to be studied.

Hashem taught Moses all of the Torah, but apparently not all at once. For one thing, we find that there were some Laws that Moses had to later ask Hashem to clarify. For example, one Sabbath day a man transgressed the Sabbath publicly, and the Torah tells us, «they put him in jail, because it was not explained what should be done to him» (Numbers 15:34).

But ultimately, Hashem taught the entire Torah to Moses. Hashem even taught to Moses every question, doubt and difference of opinion that would take place later throughout the entire history of the Jews. To the Children of Israel, however, the Torah was taught piecemeal.

Take a look at this image scanned from part of a page of a Torah Scroll.

Torah Scroll writing

You will notice that there are blank spaces. Some of the blank spaces take up a certain amount of area, and some reach all the way until the end of the line.

These are the Torah’s system of «open» and «closed» divisions. These divisions are sort of like chapter and paragraph breaks. The «closed» passages (stumos — the singular form of the word is stumah) have some sort of conceptual connection to each other, sort of like paragraphs within a chapter. An «open» section break (a p’suchahp’suchos in plural) indicates a more significant break in concept, sort of like with a new chapter. (The chapter system currently in use almost universally is actually of Gentile origin, and contains a great many errors, dividing many sections that should be together.)

Open sections must start at the beginning of a line, so the blank spaces before a new «open» section will reach until the end of the previous line. Then the new section begins, at the beginning of the next line. (In many printed Chumashim, this is marked by the Hebrew letter peh.)

The closed sections begin just a few spaces after the previous section ends, and usually begin on the same line. (In many printed Chumashim, this is marked by the Hebrew letter samech.)

The fragment shown here is from Exodus, Chapter 21, from the middle of verse 19 until the middle of verse 34. Verse 19 is from the end of a discussion about personal damage one person commits against another in the course of a fight. Then there is a stumah, after which the Torah discusses the death penalty for a man who kills his Gentile slave. Then there is another stumah, after which the Torah discusses what is to be done when a man causes a woman to miscarry. There is another stumah, and the Torah discusses what happens when a man hurts (but does not kill) his Gentile slave.

Then there is a p’suchah, which as we said indicates a major break, and the Torah begins to discuss the Laws of an animal that causes damage.

So within the first p’suchah mentioned here, the Torah discusses various Laws of damages that man causes against man. The various types are each separated by a stumah, a minor break, so they are like paragraphs in a chapter.

Between the discussion of damages caused by humans and the discussion of damages caused by animals, there is a p’suchah, a major break, and so the two concepts are divided into separate «chapters.»

The breaks also indicate that Hashem would teach each passage to Moses separately. This happened throughout the forty years in the Sinai Desert. (There are also other, deeper reasons for the breaks, but here I confine myself to the basic meanings.)

Hashem would recite a passage of the Written Torah to Moses, telling him what to write, letter by letter. Hashem would then teach Moses the Oral Torah associated with that passage: the details of that Law, along with the deeper meanings, the applications of that Law, and all concepts related to it.

Hashem would then give Moses time to think it through and review it. Moses would return with any questions that he might have, and Hashem would answer him.

Moses would then go to the tent in which he taught Torah, call in his brother, Aharon the High Priest, and teach him all that he had just learned from Hashem. They would then call in Aharon’s two sons, Elazar and Isamar, and Moses would teach it to them in the presence of Aharon. They would then call in the Seventy Elders, and Moses would teach it to them, while Aharon and his two sons listened. Then they would call in all of the people, and Moses would teach it to them. As Moses taught it to them, they would each write down the part that was to be written, and they would carefully study and memorize the parts that were to be oral.

Aharon would then teach the Torah to everyone present. After that, Aharon’s two sons would teach it to everyone present. After Aharon’s two sons had finished, the Elders would teach the Torah to everyone present.

Afterwards, the leaders of the people, the Elders and the other leaders would travel around the camp and make sure that all questions were answered and that all the Law was understood.

Then Hashem would teach Moses the next passage of the Torah, and the process would be repeated.

By this method, each person was taught the Torah at least four times, and each person got to hear it from Moses at least once.

When I refer to «other leaders,» I mean the leaders mentioned in Exodus 18:21-25. When Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses saw that Moses was tiring himself out by answering the people’s questions all day, he advised him to appoint «leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, and leaders of tens of people.»

Jethro’s system was used primarily in judging cases and answering questions. Actual teaching and study was done in Yeshivos (study halls), similar to the ones we have today. We find, for example, that the Prophet Elisha built a study hall for him and his students (2 Kings, Chapter 6). Often these yeshivos would serve as local Jewish courts as well.

Jethro’s system was kept for all time, even when the land of Israel was settled. Every town or city with at least 120 people had a court of ordained Judges. In the smaller towns and villages, these judges would be formed into courts of three judges. In bigger cities a court might have twenty-three judges. Jerusalem had a few courts, and the highest court, the Sanhedrin, had at least seventy-one judges. The leading Rabbi of all Jews in Israel would be appointed as head of the Sanhedrin.

How were Elders and Judges appointed? Judges and Elders were always appointed by the Elders, and taken from their best students. The leading Rabbi was usually appointed by a vote of the Sanhedrin.

Moses is referred to as «Moshe Rabbenu,» which means, «Our Rabbi Moses.» Moses was the first Rabbi, because Hashem ordained him to be a Rabbi. Moses then ordained those who were fitting (moral, patient, kind, wise, altruistic, etc.), and knowledgeable in Torah, and made them into Elders and Leaders.

In later years, those Elders and Leaders ordained those of their students that were fitting and knowledgeable. Those students later ordained some of their own students, who passed it on to their students, and so on, for many generations. The Mosaic Ordination was passed down this way from Rabbi to student for close to two thousand years, until the fourth century C.E., when the Emperor Constantinius put a stop to it, and the Mosaic Ordination was cut off without any recipients. Since then, we have not had a Sanhedrin.

For some reasons, the detractors of Judaism (including Thomas Paine in his book, The Age of Reason) like to say that the Torah nowhere claims that Moses wrote the Torah. To put that foolishness to rest, here is what the Torah says about that:

Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll until it was complete. Moses commanded the Levites, those who carried the Ark of Hashem’s Covenant, telling them, «Take this Torah Scroll, and put it next to the Ark of Hashem your G-d’s Covenant, and let it be there as a testimony.»

— Deuteronomy 31:24-25

The Torah is quite clear that Moses wrote down the entire Written Torah.

Furthermore, it was all according to Hashem’s precise instructions. Hashem instructed Moses on writing the Torah Scroll letter by letter. As I have mentioned, Hashem composed the entire Torah two thousand years before He created the universe. So while Moses wrote the first Torah Scrolls used by the Children of Israel, Moses did not compose it. He followed Hashem’s instructions precisely, in every minute detail.

When the time came for Moses to leave this world, Hashem told him to appoint Joshua as his successor. Why Joshua? Because Joshua devoted his life to studying Torah from Moses and learning from the greatest of Prophets how to behave and how to live. The Torah says that Joshua never left Moses’ side (Exodus 33:11). And therefore the Torah says,

Hashem told Moses «Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man who has the Spirit of Hashem on him, and ordain him. Present him to Elazar the High Priest and all of the Congregation of Israel, and instate him as they watch. Impart some of your splendor to him, so that all the Congregation of Israel will obey him.»

— Numbers 27:18-20

And later we find that Hashem commanded Joshua:

Strengthen yourself znd take courage, for you will lead this nation to the land I promised to their fathers I would give them. So it is important that you strengthen yourself and take courage a great deal to guard and obey all of the Torah that My servant Moses taught you. Do not stray from it, not to the right or left, so that you will be successful in all that you undertake. The Torah should not leave your mouth, and you must study it day and night, so that you will guard and keep all that it is written in it….

— Joshua 1:6-8

And so, not only did the mantle of leadership of Israel pass from Moses to Joshua, so did the responsibility for the maintenance of proper Torah study pass along to him as well. For that has been the true function of the leaders of Israel throughout all the generations: to maintain an elevated level of Torah study, and lead Israel in proper obedience to the Torah.

The next section, Hashem willing, will discuss the generations that followed Joshua.

The Oral Law and Our Own Opinions

In my article, The Indispensable Oral Law, I demonstrate that the Oral Torah existed when the Written Torah was given to us. Otherwise, it would be impossible to understand the Torah with any clarity at all.

I wish to discuss this some more, to clarify some confusion on the matter.

A woman wrote me that in her opinion: «Oral Law is man’s interpretation. Oral Law is just another opinion and interpretation of the Torah Scriptures. Each person must undertake to understand the Torah in his or her own way.»

In her opinion, any and every interpretation of the Torah created by any human would be acceptable, and we need not follow established precedence, nor do we need to obey anyone’s interpretation of the Torah.

Is this true? What does the Torah teach about this? Let’s take a look.

But before we discuss this, I want to make it clear that there is a place for personal expression and inspiration in the study and observance of Torah. However, it may not step beyond the clear lines that the Torah has drawn, as we shall see.

Now, how do we know there are guidelines to the way we may interpret the Torah?

In Exodus (24:12-18), Hashem tells Moses to climb up Mount Sinai, where He will give him the Two Tablets, the Torah, and the Commandments. Moses was there for forty days and forty nights, studying the Torah.

Moses came down from the mountain, and began teaching the Torah to the Children of Israel. And whenever the Children of Israel came to ask a question, Moses was able to supply the answer.

Yet we find that despite having studied the Torah directly from Hashem, there were at least three points of information that Moses did not know.

When someone publicly cursed the Name of Hashem, Moses did not know what was to be done to him (Leviticus 24:10-16).

When a man was found publicly gathering wood during the Sabbath, which is one of the 39 activities forbidden on the Sabbath, everyone knew that he was supposed to be killed. However, no one, not even Moses, knew what method of capital punishment the transgressor was supposed to receive (Numbers 15:34).

And again, when the five daughters of Tzelofchod came to ask their question about inheritance, Moses found that he did not know the answer (Numbers Chapter 27).

So how did Moses find out what should be done in each of these cases? Did they simply decide according to what made sense to them? No, Moses asked Hashem.

In each of those three cases, the Torah makes it clear that they asked Hashem, and that Hashem very clearly told them the Law.

For example, concerning the daughters of Tzelofchod, the Torah says: «And Moses brought their case for judgment to Hashem. Hashem said to Moses, ‘The daughters of Tzelofchod are correct in what they have said’» (Numbers 27:5-6).

Let me digress for a moment, and discuss something that may be on your mind as you read this. Why is it that Moses did not know the Law in these three cases? Here is one answer.

Though Hashem taught all of the Torah to Moses, there is also a general rule: Hashem makes good things happen through good people, and bad things through bad people (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 32a). Therefore, Hashem let the Laws of transgressing the Sabbath and cursing Hashem be taught through those who had broken those Laws.

On the other hand, the five daughters of Tzelofchod were very righteous women, and therefore Hashem wanted that particular Law to be taught to Israel through them.

Yet at no time were the people left to their own devices to figure out the Law for themselves. Each and every Law of the Torah — and their proper interpretations — came from Hashem.

Now, this does not mean that all Laws can be determined only through prophecy. Quite the contrary, in fact. Only in the time of Moses was that possible, since the Children of Israel were still learning the Torah
for the first time, and as we see, even Moses needed to ask, on occasion. Subsequent to the passing of Moses, the Law was not learned or taught through prophecy. In fact, the Talmud has a Law against deciding on legal cases by means of prophecy.

So what are we supposed to do today, when there is a doubt or question about Jewish Law? The Torah tells us what to do in such cases also.

If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, damages, or any other case where there is a dispute in your local courts, then you must set out and go up to the place that Hashem your G-d shall choose.

You must approach the Levites and Priests and the Supreme Court that exists at that time. You must make an inquiry, and they will declare to you a legal decision.

You must do as the court that Hashem has chosen tells you, carefully following their every decision. You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the Laws that they legislate for you.

Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you.

If any person rebels and refuses to listen to the priest or other judge who is in charge of serving Hashem your G-d there, then that person must be put to death, thus ridding yourselves of evil in Israel.

— Deuteronomy 17:8-13

The Torah here is explaining the hierarchical court system. When there is a question, we must go to our local Rabbi, or our local Bais Din. If they are unable to answer, we must go to a higher Jewish Court. If they cannot answer the question, they must go to yet a higher court. And so on, all the way until the top court, the Sanhedrin. Unfortunately, the full system is not in effect today, because we are in exile. But we still have local Rabbis, who also have Rabbis with whom to consult, and we also have local Jewish courts (Battai Din).

So the Torah does not simply allow each person to create his own
interpretation of the Law. Quite the opposite. The Torah repeatedly says, «One Torah shall there be for all of you: for the born-Jew and the convert.» All Jews must follow that same Torah.

The Torah has definite lines of the permitted and the forbidden, and there are definite lines of Tradition and heresy. And within those very broad lines, there is an unlimited — and I mean literally unlimited — area for inspiration and the development of new concepts. We call those chiddushim, and the Torah strongly encourages each and every one of us to develop chiddushim within the permissible guidelines.

In other words, we can build infinitely upon the existing structure of Torah, but we may not remove even one block from that structure.

We may conceive of and suggest novel approaches to understanding the Torah, but we may not contradict the Torah — neither the Oral Torah nor the Written Torah.

Hashem wants you to think, and to grow in thoughts of Torah, and to expand upon our understanding of what the Torah teaches. And Hashem gave us guidelines to follow in our growth, so that we grow in the direction the Torah wants us to grow, and not twist and distort the true meaning of the Torah.

P>Judaism is quite expansive. The breadth of Judaism is such that there is a great deal of leeway within the boundaries of Jewish Law for the expression of personal tendencies and preferences. Look at the many branches of Orthodox Judaism: Hassidim, Misnagdim, Sefardim, etc., and with so many types of each of those, each of which appeals to another type of Orthodox Jew.

True, many personal preferences are outside of permissible bounds, such movements as the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative. But the bounds of proper Jewish Law are not limiting, because they encompass quite a vast area.

The Torah is an unparalleled opportunity for expression. You can think of it as similar to a sonnet. There are specific laws of meter and rhyme, but the content within those bounds is still the choice of the poet.

The Torah itself gives us voice for self-expression, as any truly spiritual Orthodox Jew can tell you.

The Torah commands us to keep within the parameters of Halachah, for our own benefit. By doing so, we become even more holy. By stepping off that path we harm ourselves.

As I have written elsewhere, Hashem created the Torah, both the Written and Oral Torah, the complete package, two thousand years before He created this universe. Hashem kept the Torah until the right time, and then gave this cherished treasure to us.

When the time came, Hashem taught the Law to Moses, who taught it to the children of Israel, who taught it to the next generation of Israel, who taught it to the next generation, and so on, through the generations until today.

And the Torah contains a method by which we can restore lost or forgotten Laws, but these are very strictly regulated to prevent abuse.

Not everyone can learn at the same level as everyone else, which is why there have always been, and there must always be, Rabbis and leaders who know more, and whom we must ask when we have a question or doubt.

And of course the Rabbis and the judges of all courts are subject to the same Laws, and to special Laws and restrictions just for judges. When there is a doubt in a Law, there are specific ways to resolve it.

More about that, Hashem willing, in another article.

Why Did Hashem Create an Oral Law?

Question: If there is an Oral Law, why didn’t Hashem or Moses write it down? What benefit could there be in the details of the Law being Oral?

Answer: There are actually many reasons why the Torah needs an oral component. I will, Hashem willing, try to explain a few in this article.

The Rabbis make a very interesting statement in the Midrash Rabbah (sermons of the Rabbis taken from the Oral Tradition, and later collected and published by a student of Rabbi Judah the Prince, Rabbi Oshayah, circa 200 C.E.). The Midrash is discussing some of the deeper meanings of the sacrificial offerings brought by the leaders of the Tribes of Israel when the Holy Tabernacle was built and dedicated:

«And for the peace sacrifice, two oxen…» Because Hashem gave Israel two Torahs: The Written Torah and the Oral Torah. He gave them the Written Torah that has the 613 Commandments, to fill them up with merits and to purify them, as it says «Hashem wants His righteous people, so He increased and strengthened the Torah.»

He gave them the Oral Torah so that they would, by the Oral Torah, be distinct from all other nations. For this reason it was not given in writing, so that the Gentiles could not forge it or claim it for their own, and then claim that they are the true Israel, as they did with the Written Torah.

— Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 14:10, s.v. «On the Eleventh Day»

The Oral Torah is our unique property, our special possession, our glory and source of joy. It is what makes us what we are, and enables us to fulfill Hashem’s will.

The Torah is more vast than most people imagine. In the Book of Job, Tzofer Hana’amasi (one of Job’s friends) tells us about the wisdom of Hashem, the Torah, that «Its measurement is longer than the land, and wider than the sea» (Job 11:9). But if you unroll a copy of every Book of the Torah and stretch them out end to end, starting from the Five Books of Moses until Malachi, the entire length is not likely to reach even one mile. Tzofer is not referring to the Books of the Written Torah, which have a specific limit, but to the wisdom of Hashem as manifest in the Oral Torah, and as alluded to in the Written Torah.

Similarly, we find in the Midrash as follows:

May the Name of the King of all emperors be blessed, for having chosen Israel from all the seventy nations, as it says, «For Hashem’s portion is His nation, Jacob is the essence of His inheritance» (Deut. 32:9). And He gave us the Written Torah that contains hidden and concealed allusions, and He explained them in the Oral Torah, and revealed them to Israel.

Moreover, the Written Torah has the general rules, and the Oral Torah has the details. The Oral Torah is vast, and the Written Torah is small. Concerning the Oral Torah, it says, «Its measurement is longer than the land, and wider than the sea.» ….

For Hashem ratified His pledge with Israel only because of the Oral Torah, as it says: «Through these words I have set forth my pledge with you…» The actual words used by the Torah there mean, literally, «By the mouth of these words I have set forth my pledge with you….» (Exodus 34:27) [This is the literal translation]. The Torah means «through these words,» but instead uses the phrase «By the mouth of these words….»

The Torah could have said, «Because of these words….» or «For the sake of these words….» or «For these words…» or «through these words…», but instead the Torah used the phrase «By the mouth of these words….» This refers to the Oral Torah, hence the use of the phrase «by the mouth of these words…»

Only those who love Hashem with all their hearts, all their souls, and all their might, study the Oral Torah.

— Midrash Tanchumah, Noach 3:3, s.v. These are the Chronicles

The Talmud is not the entire Oral Torah. The Talmud is the basic skeleton of the Oral Torah, as much as was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the Torah. But it is by far not the entire Oral Torah. That wouldn’t be possible.

The Oral Torah is limitless. This is not hyperbole, or exaggeration, in any way. I mean this precisely and literally. The greatness of the Oral Torah is that no matter how much is taught, no matter how much is learned, there is always more true Torah to be discovered. Hashem created the Torah that way. The Talmud tells us, «Every Torah teaching that any conscientious Torah student is destined to extrapolate was already taught to Moses at Mount Sinai» (Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus 22:1; ibid. Eccl. 1:2 and 5:2). (This does not mean, by the way, that every interpretation anyone makes up is true. See my article on «The Oral Law and Our Own Opinions.»)

And absolutely every single element of the Oral Torah is alluded to in the Written Torah. This adds yet another dimension to the study, and helps make the learning even more glorious and meaningful.

Incidentally, this is why the Written Torah had to be written in Hebrew, the language that Hashem created specifically for that purpose.

The Oral Torah contains the details of the general Laws found in the Written Torah. Without those details, we could never fulfill the Laws. For example, the Torah commands the Jewish Supreme Court to declare when a new month has begun, and the Oral Torah gives us all the necessary details. We find, therefore, that the Talmud (Rosh Hashonoh 25b) tells us that the time between each appearance of a new moon can be no less than 29.53059 days. This information, reported Rabbi Gamliel in the Talmud, is part of the Oral Torah.

Only this century did anyone else in the world have a calculation of that nature. Carl Sagan has stated that the period of time from new moon to new moon is 29.53058 days, only 100 thousandth of a day less! That’s within 0.864 of a second of what the Talmud says! Scientists in Berlin later revised it to 29.530588 days, which is 0.6912 thousandths of a second closer to what the Talmud says (and the scientists are still not absolutely positive). That is how close they are to the number given by our Oral Torah. We needed this information, in order to properly observe a Mitzvah in the Torah, so Hashem taught that to Moses.

The Oral Torah is needed in order to maintain the context of the Written Torah. It therefore contains much more information than the Written Torah. The Written Torah needs the Oral Torah to make certain that the correct meaning is conveyed and understood.

In the simple act of relaying information, the spoken word can employ so many means that are unavailable to the written word. Tone of voice is one example. Another example is which words we stress, and how strongly we accent them. Hand gestures and body language convey a great deal more than the simple spoken word conveys, and far more than the written word.

There is an old Yiddish story about the man in a small town in Europe who sent his son to an out-of-town school. A month or so later, the son wrote the father a letter. The father could not read, so he walked around town looking for someone who could read the letter to him. He came across the baker. In Europe, bakers were known for their lack of scholarship. They usually had poor reading skills, if any at all. This baker was no exception. But the baker was a good man, and he decided he would do this favor for this man.

The baker opened the letter, and read it to the father. The letter was a rather simple letter, in which the son tells the father about how busy he is with his courses, how he has found a simple place to live in the big and confusing city. Unfortunately, it is rather distant from the school, but it was all he could afford. As a result he needs to take a bus to and from school every day. And so on and so forth. He ended the letter with a polite plea to his father to send him some money. «Tatteh, shik gelt.» («Father, send money.»)

Unfortunately, the baker was not very adept at reading, and moreover, did not know of the close relationship between the father and his son. The baker perceived the letter as being nasty and full of demands. He was certainly unable to render the flowery phrases of affection interspersed throughout the letter.

«He complains that you sent him to this difficult school that gives him a lot of work to do,» said the baker, «how terrible the city is, and how he is not happy with his apartment. He demands that you send him money!» That was how the baker interpreted the letter.

The father grew incensed. «After all I did for him! That lousy ingrate! How dare he speak to me that way!»

He took the letter, and rushed off to the town Rabbi to show it to him.

The Rabbi took the letter, the evidence of the son’s chutzpah, and read it. Raising an eyebrow, he asked the father what harm there was in the letter.

The father, sputtering, reiterated his outrage against his son’s chutzpah, all the while pointing to the letter.

The Rabbi smiled patiently, and told the man to sit down. He offered him something to eat and drink, and then said to him, «Let me read this letter to you.» He read the letter out loud, in a soft and loving voice, ending with the impassioned plea of «Tatteh, shik gelt

By the time the Rabbi was finished, the man was red in the face with embarrassment. «I can’t understand it, » he muttered. «The baker must have read the wrong letter.»

A written record is needed, but it takes an educated person to read it properly! That is why we need Rabbis and scholars to delve into each matter and make sure the Torah is properly and fully understood.

In addition, words themselves change their meanings over time. Here’s an interesting example. In Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, we find the expression «Stuff and nonsense!» I once read a work in which the author mused that the two words, «stuff» and «nonsense,» made an odd juxtaposition. After all, the word «stuff» means, more or less, «something of substance.» «Nonsense,» of course, means the opposite. Using the two words to describe one thing makes no sense.

But if you read Charles Dickens’ works, you will also come across the word «stuff,» and he used it to mean «nonsense!» In other words, «stuff and nonsense» was not an odd juxtaposition at all, back then. Back then, in the nineteenth century, when Dickens and Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s real name) lived, the word «stuff» had almost precisely the opposite meaning that it does today, barely 150 years later!

So when the Torah gives us instruction, we must be clear as to the original meaning of the instruction. This, the Oral Torah keeps alive for us.

Let me cite an example of a changing idiom.

The Torah commands Jewish men to wear tefillin on their head. Where on the head? Above the hairline, in a straight line between one’s two eyes (no, it does not have to be precise, but near enough). How does the Torah phrase it? The Torah says, «Let them be as insignia between your eyes» (Deut. 11:18). The Torah does not mean literally between your eyes, but on your head in that position.

How do we know this? The Torah uses the phrase «between your eyes» in at least one other place. The Torah commands us not to imitate pagan practices, among them the practice of pulling out one’s hair in mourning. The Torah says, «You are children of Hashem your G-d. Do not mutilate yourselves, and do not make a bald patch between your eyes as a sign of mourning» (Deut. 14:1).

Where, precisely, are we not to make a bald patch? Between our eyes? Do you have that much hair between your eyes? How can you make yourself bald in a place that has practically no hair, if any at all? What does the Torah mean here?

Well, back in the early Biblical days, there was a Hebrew phrase «between your eyes» that really meant «on your head above your hairline, between your eyes.»

So when the Torah tells us to place tefillin «between your eyes,» the Torah really means on one’s head, in a direct line above the area between one’s eyes.

How do I know this? Because the Talmud tells us so (Menachos 37b). I would not have made this connection on my own. Our Oral Tradition, however, teaches us the meaning of the Written Torah.

Thus we see that the Oral Torah maintains the integrity and original meaning of the Written Torah. Today, no one uses the phrase «between your eyes.» If they do, they don’t mean it the way the Torah uses it. That’s why we need the Oral Torah!

The truth is that the Oral Torah and Written Torah work together, and each can exist only with the other. The Written Torah is needed as an anchor for the Oral Torah. It contains, in brief and in hidden allusion, the Oral Torah as well.

So we need both the Oral Torah and the Written Torah to maintain each other, and bring us the full instruction that Hashem has given us.

Furthermore, the Torah must be passed along from generation to generation by direct oral transmission. Just as in every field, we Jews also have specialists. These are our Rabbis, who have the responsibility to teach and keep Judaism alive that way. And they, too, must teach by example as well as by direct teaching.

Many years ago, I attended a special ceremony over which the previous Rebbe of Bobov (of blessed memory) presided. The Bobover Rebbe, of blessed memory, was a man of exceptionally holy qualities, one of which I personally merited witnessing.

The particular ceremony I’m telling you about now was held in a public park, and was attended by many members of the community at large, even members of other Chassidic groups.

As the Rebbe was leaving the park after the ceremony, the people began to crowd closer to get a better look at the Rebbe. In fact, that was the first time I ever got to meet him personally and shake his hand. Had there not been so many other people who also wanted to meet him, I would also have asked him for a blessing.

As the Rebbe continued to walk toward the gates of the park, he found himself hampered by the crowd. So he made his way carefully, and people began to slowly create an opening, a path between the people for the Rebbe to walk through. But some of the people there felt that it wasn’t happening fast enough. They felt the need to take charge and speed things up. So they began to pummel people on both sides of the «path,» punching them so they would move back and widen the path.

When the late Rebbe of blessed memory saw this happening, he became extremely agitated. He trembled in anguish, and raised his hands as if to ward off the blows himself. He cried out, «Mir shlugt nisht kain Yid!» (One does not hit a fellow Jew!)

That moment etched itself on my brain—to be more precise, it etched itself into my heart. The anguish the Rebbe felt over one Jew hitting another Jew, probably without even hurting them very much, was overwhelming. No one could see the Rebbe’s reaction and not be moved by it.

To be sure, I was aware of the Torah’s Commandment to love all Jews. I had studied the Torah’s Commandments against hitting innocent people. I knew all that. But to see how a holy man had so developed in himself these positive traits was to have the lesson burned into the very core of my being. It showed me a level that I realized I was yet to reach. (I’m not claiming that by now I have reached that level, but that was when I first realized that I hadn’t.)

When I was in the first grade, the Rabbi who taught the class would often speak about the importance of chessed — acts of kindness and charity. I don’t remember much else from that year, but this I recall without a problem. Why do I remember this, when it was so many years ago, and I was so young? Why do I have such a vivid memory of this, when I was only six years old at the time?

I remember it because of an incident that took place one day. During class, another Rabbi came in to observe. The visiting Rabbi began to sit down in one of the empty seat-desks near the back of the class. It was a small seat, of course, made for six-year-olds. The Rabbi of the class, our Rabbi, stood up and offered his own chair to the visiting Rabbi. I was tremendously impressed. I recall the precise words I thought to myself at the time: «He’s doing that because of that chessed he always talks about.»

Do you think I could possibly remember that my first Rabbi taught me about doing chessed, if he hadn’t shown it to us the way he did? That act of chessed, as small as it may seem next to other acts of chessed, cemented into our hearts all the talks he had ever given on the topic. We could have heard a million speeches, read a trillion books, but nothing would ever have affected us as much as seeing him put his own words into action.

These are examples of what any Jewish teacher and parent must convey to each of his or her students. A teacher of Judaism is a vital and necessary link in the chain of our Holy Tradition, and the Torah must be transmitted with its essence intact. It is therefore absolutely necessary that a person place himself or herself in an environment where he or she can have a personal relationship with a spiritually developed, holy Jew, so that he can learn not only the words of the Torah, but how to put them into action. That is the essence of the Oral Torah.

The Torah therefore exhorts each of us, «Ask your father and he will relate it to you; your elders (alternatively, your grandfathers) and they will tell you» (Deut. 32:7).

We must study the Torah constantly, but that is not enough. Torah must be absorbed, it must be internalized through day-to-day exposure. Yes, it must be studied constantly. But even more so, it must be soaked up through total immersion, like a tea bag in hot water. The tea in the bag becomes completely wet, and the water around the bag turns into tea. When we live a life of Torah, the Torah elevates and improves us, and the entire Torah-observant world is enriched through our personal example, and future generations look to us as a role model. Therefore, to truly internalize the Torah within us, we must be part of and interact with the Torah world.

For that, and for the reasons mentioned above, and for many more reasons besides, we need direct Oral Teaching. We could never rely on the Written Word alone.

The Indispensable Oral Law

«Safeguard and keep (these rules) since that is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, ‘this great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people’».

— Deut. 4:6

Throughout history, in almost every country, the Jews have led the intelligentsia. Through the worst of the «Dark Ages», when the only men capable of reading were the clergy and some nobility, just about every Jewish male knew how to read Hebrew, and many were equally proficient in the language of the land. Jews have been at the forefront of every civil movement, every intellectual movement, and have been known as scholars throughout all of history.

Even non-Jews have recognized this, and you can find mention of it in numerous places, and in the writings of many cultures.

What is the source of our wisdom? The Torah tells us — the Torah is the source!

It is amazing that so few people take the time to think about what this really means. Consider: The Christians claim that they now have the Torah. Yet no one calls the Christians a wise people. What do we have that they don’t?

The answer is obvious to anyone who has ever learned the Torah. We have the Oral Law, which is the Traditional accompaniment to the Written Tradition many refer to as the Bible. Anyone who has ever tried to learn the Scriptures alone knows that they are a closed book, full of confusing and difficult-to-understand statements. The Torah is generally briefly worded, and lacks detailed directions. Obviously, commentary is necessary. This commentary is the Oral Tradition, also known as the Oral Law, or the Oral Torah. The Written Bible is completely incomprehensible without the Oral Tradition.

To demonstrate, I will cite some examples of Laws from the Written Torah that are
completely incomprehensible without knowledge of the Oral Tradition.

When the Bible tells us (Lev. 20:14) to take together four species on the first day of Succos, which four species are meant, and what are we supposed to do with them?

The prohibition of Chelev (fat) (Lev. 7:24) leaves us uninformed as to which fat is included in the category of Chelev, and which are Shumin (fat) and therefore permitted.

Which blood is forbidden, (Lev. 7:26) and how do we purge the meat of it?

What are Totaphot? (Ex. 13:16) If that means Tefillin, what exactly are Tefillin? How are
they made, and how are they «bound as a sign upon your hand?»

Which work is forbidden on the Sabbath, and which is permitted?

«You shall not cook a young animal in its mother’s milk» is stated three times in the Bible. Why? The Oral Law explains why. It also explains the seemingly odd wording of the commandment.

Most Hebrew words change their meaning when pronounced differently. Without the Oral Tradition, how can we determine the true meaning of the words of the Hebrew Scriptures, written as they were without vowels?

These are just a few examples of why the Oral Torah is necessary. And if you consider all that the Torah includes, you will realize that the entire body of Torah, the instructions on how to live our lives, is too vast to be confined to a few small books.

The existence of the oral tradition is alluded to in the Written Law in numerous places.

For example:

The Torah says: (Deut. 12:20) «When G-d expands your borders as He promised you, and your natural desire to eat meat asserts itself, so that you say; ‘I wish to eat meat’, you may eat as much meat as you wish… you need only slaughter your cattle and small animals… in the manner I have commanded you.» Nowhere in the Written Torah is such a manner described. So what is the manner in which we are supposed to slaughter cattle?

Though the laws of slaughtering cattle are not explained in the Written Torah, they are
described in detail in the Oral Law.

The Talmud tells the story of a Gentile who went to Hillel the Elder and said to him, «I want to convert, but I want to accept only the Written Torah, and not the Oral Torah. I don’t wish to accept the words of the Rabbis. So teach me only the Written Torah, and not the Oral Torah.»

But Hillel knew that the man wanted to do the right thing. He simply didn’t understand the purpose of the Oral Torah. So he began to teach him the Aleph Bais (Hebrew alphabet). The first day, Hillel the Elder taught him the first two letters, aleph, and bais (aleph and bet, for those who speak the Sefardic dialect).

The next day, Hillel the Elder taught him the same two letters in reverse. He showed him the letter aleph, and called it «bais.» The man objected, «but yesterday you taught it the other way!»

«Well, then, you need me, a Rabbi, to teach you the Aleph Bais? So you have to trust my
knowledge of the tradition of the letters. What I tell you is the Oral Tradition. You can’t read the alphabet if no one tells you what it means. And you think you don’t need the Rabbis’ knowledge of Jewish Tradition in order to understand the words of the Torah? Those are much more difficult! Without an Oral Tradition you will never be able to learn the Torah.»

So it is clear that an Oral Tradition is needed, and that one exists.

In this series of articles, Hashem willing, we will discuss the manner and method of
Transmission of the Oral Torah, from Moses until today.

Scripture Only, Please

Asking Questions

Judaism is the way of life that Hashem gave us at Mount Sinai, and taught to us in the Sinai Desert.

It includes a Written Torah and an Oral Torah.

It has always included an Oral Torah, and in fact, some of the Commandments were first taught to us orally before we had them in writing. But by and the large, we were taught both at the same time. Hashem would recite a paragraph of the Written Torah to Moses, telling him what to write, letter by letter. Hashem would then teach Moses the details of that Law, along with the deeper meanings, the applications of that Law, and all concepts related to it.

It is impossible to fulfill the Commandments of the Torah without the Oral Torah, because we need to know those details.

On the other hand, if we had only the Oral Torah, it would be possible to fulfill the
Commandments. The Written Torah’s function is primarily to prevent the Oral Torah from being forgotten.

The Written Torah is similar to a series of very brief notes a student writes at a lecture. I attended a class once in which I wrote in my notebook: «DY = 2; SY = 1.» Do you have any idea what that means? How could you? It means: «A double yellow line in the middle of the road means it is a two-way road, a single yellow line means it is a one-way road.» When you know what was said in the class, the notes make perfect sense to you. If you do not know
what was said at the lecture, you cannot understand the notes.

Hashem created the Torah two thousand years before He created the universe. That refers to both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah is the extended «lecture.» The Written Torah contains the brief notes that make certain that we do not forget the «lecture.» Thus, in a sense, the Oral Torah gives us the context of the Written Torah.

I sometimes get questions from people who insist that I prove something from «Scriptural sources.» Christians, and those who follow their example, will accept only what is written in the Written Torah. (Which is surprising, considering the fact that they don’t obey the Scriptures anyway.)

Well, sorry, but quoting Scripture is not necessary. Judaism includes both a Written Torah and an Oral Torah, and it has always included both. If it is in the Oral Torah, it is Torah, and that’s a good enough source. If neither the Written nor the Oral Torah mention something, then it is not Torah. But if the Talmud teaches something, it is Torah, and therefore it is Judaism.

Which explains the title of this article: «Scripture Only, Please,» based on the request that I sometimes get. And my answer always is: I don’t have to quote Scripture when explaining Judaism. It is sufficient to quote Talmud and other Rabbinic Writings.

I teach Judaism, not Christianity. Christendom in general (yes, I know there are some exceptions) is ignorant of the origin and purpose of the Oral Torah. The truth is that the Christians got their opposition to the Oral Torah from a movement even earlier than Christianity. It came from the Sadducees, who rejected the Oral Torah because it prevented them from imitating the Greek lifestyle.

Demanding that I quote Scripture, and not accepting the Rabbis’ teachings, is contrary to Judaism. Still, whenever possible, I like to quote Jewish Scripture (which we refer to as Tanach) as well as the Talmud and Rabbis, because, after all, it is part of the Torah.

Now, I’m not saying that questions are forbidden. Quite the contrary! Judaism encourages questions. But if you approach a Rabbi with the argument that, «You are wrong, everything you say is wrong, and all of Judaism is wrong, because I don’t see it in the Scriptures,» you are probably not going to get much of an answer. In fact, you have probably already rejected the answer before you have even heard it!

The key is in being polite, sensitive, and open to learning.

But it is certainly acceptable to ask a Rabbi to explain a certain position, saying, for example, «I know that Orthodox Judaism believes in concept A. But doesn’t the Torah say such and such that implies the opposite?» Or «Why does the Torah seem to contradict itself in these two places?» There is always an answer to that sort of question!

It doesn’t mean that every Rabbi has the answer to every question, of course. Learning the answer to every question would take a long time to achieve. But the answer is always there, and it is all in the Oral Torah.

Which brings us to the most important point: When we seek answers in depth, it is to the Oral Torah that we turn, supported as it is by the Written Torah, and which in turn supports the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is pivotal and vital to Judaism. So to ask us to ignore the Oral Torah is completely unacceptable. It would be like trying to use a computer without a monitor.

And if you’ve ever tried to do that, you know just what a waste of time that can be.
To read more about the Oral Law, read my next article in this series, The Indispensable Oral

How Old is the Torah?

Question: «Is there any evidence that the Bible is more than two thousand years old?»

Answer: Yes, in fact there’s plenty of evidence of that. We have had the Torah for at least 3,313 years, when Hashem gave it to us at Mount Sinai. Can we prove that the Torah is really that old? Yes, we can.

Let us trace the existence of the Torah back through history. We will show that the Torah existed during the time of Moses and Joshua, and was not created later.

First, a brief rundown of the periods of Jewish History, so we can understand all this better:

From Leader to Leader

Each generation had its own leader. After Moses died, Joshua became leader. During the next four hundred years we had a succession of Prophet-Judges leading us. That was called the period of the Judges. Each leader was a Judge. You might recognize some of the names: Boaz, Samson, Gideon, to name just a few of the many.

The last Judge was the Prophet Samuel. The next leader was King David. After King David passed away, his son King Solomon became leader. Some call this the Era of the Kings.

When King Solomon passed away, the kingdom was split into two. Ten Tribes left and created their own kingdom. They called it the kingdom of Israel. One of the later kings of Israel bought some land from a man named Shemer, and so he called the area «Shomron.» You may have heard of it as «Samaria.» Samaria became the capital of the kingdom of Israel.

The Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with some of the members of the Tribe of Levi and some of the kohanim (priests from the Tribe of Levi), remained faithful to the Royal Family of David. They remained subjects of King Rehoboam, whose father had been King Solomon. They became the kingdom of Judah (the Romans later called them the Kingdom of Judea), and their capital
was still in Jerusalem. Most Jews alive today are descendants of the people of the kingdom of Judah.

When the Ten Tribes rebelled against the rightful king, Rehoboam, they rejected the House of David entirely. They therefore decided to reject any Holy Book that mentioned King David, and any Holy Book written by a Prophet who supported King David.

Which Holy Books were in existence then?

The Five Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastics. The Ten Tribes rejected the Book of Judges, because it had been written by the Prophet Samuel, who had anointed and supported King David. They rejected the Books of Samuel and Kings because those Books supported King David, and because they were written by the Prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, who strongly supported King David.

They rejected the Book of Ruth because it told of the ancestry of King David. They rejected Psalms because it was written (and collected from other Prophets) by King David. They rejected Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastics, because those were written by King Solomon.

So all they kept were the Five Books of Moses, and Joshua. The Book of Joshua tells of their capturing the land of Israel, so they felt it supported them.

All the other Holy Books of the Tanach were written after the break up (and for the most part also supported King David), so the Ten Tribes never had those Books at all.

So now there were two kings at once: one in Judah and one in Israel. However, the leaders of Judaism were the Prophets. The Prophets traveled to both Israel and Judah, and were seen in both kingdoms of the country. So while we call this period the era of the kings, we also call it the era of the Later Prophets.

The Samaritans

About two hundred and fifty years later (in the year 555 B.C.E.) the king of Assyria conquered the kingdom of Israel, and took most of the people into exile. We do not know where he sent them. Those are the Ten Lost Tribes, and we will not see them again until the Messiah comes.

Assyria was, at that time, a world power, having conquered many countries. Shalmanesser, King of Assyria, had the practice of relocating entire nations, in order to better subjugate and control them. When he took the Ten Tribes of Israel away from Samaria, he brought the people called the Cuthites to replace them. We don’t know where the Cuthites came from. Since the Cuthites settled in the area known as Samaria (Shomron), they later became known as the Samaritans (Shomronim).

When the Cuthites were first relocated into Samaria, they were being killed by plagues of lions, and they did not know what to do about it. So they sent a message to the king of Assyria, asking for help. The king of Assyria did not know what to do about this either, so he asked advice from some kohanim (priests) of Israel, those people he had exiled from the land of Samaria and relocated elsewhere. They told him that it is dangerous to live in Hashem’s Holy Land and not obey the Torah.

The king of Assyria therefore decided to send some Kohanim of Israel to teach the Cuthites how to keep the Torah. The Cuthites, because of the plagues, decided to accept some of the Torah. They began to worship Hashem, but it was soon discovered that they had not stopped worshiping their idols. They were doing some odd combination of both. Nevertheless, the lions went away. (You can read about all this in II Kings, Chapter 17.)

Since the Samaritans still worshiped their idols, their conversion was not proper, and it was unacceptable. The Jews could therefore not accept the Samaritans as Jews. For this, the Samaritans developed a deep and terrible hatred for the Jews. They did whatever they could to destroy the Jews. They would send messages to the enemy overlord, claiming that the Jews were planning to revolt. They tried many times to get the Jews killed.

They also built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and there they worshiped an odd combination of religions, which includes their distorted version of the Chumash, and idolatry. Their temple was dedicated to both G-d and to their own pagan idols.

The Samaritans also decided to accept the Sacred Book of the country (i.e., the Torah). However, they did not adopt all the Books of the Torah. They adopted some of what the kohanim of the Kingdom of Israel taught them about. The kohanim of the Ten Tribes had only the Five Books of Moses, and the Book of Joshua. So that’s what they taught to the Samaritans. The Samaritans accepted the Chumash, with some distortions of their own, but they refused to accept the Book of Joshua, because it excluded their ownership of the land they occupied. So they created their own book, which they call Joshua. Today, the small number of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim still have a distorted version of the Chumash, and their own book that they call Joshua.

So, during the sixth and fifth century B.C.E. there was the kingdom of Judah, and the Samaritans, both living in the land of Israel, not all that far away from each other.

The Babylonians

Then, 130 or so years later, in 422 B.C.E., the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah. The people of Judah were taken into exile. The Holy Temple was destroyed. The Jews were exiled to a number of places. Most were taken to Babylon, but there were many sent to such faraway places as Yemen. The Jews in Yemen today are descendants of those Jews who were sent there when the First Holy Temple was destroyed.

The Samaritans stayed in their land, and were under the rule of the enemy conquerors.

The Babylonians finally lost their ascendancy over the world, and the Persians and Medes came into power. The Persians eventually gave the Jews permission to rebuild the Holy Temple. So some Jews returned to Israel, the part of it called Judea, and began to rebuild the city and the Holy Temple.

Most Jews, however, stayed where they were, but some Jews left Babylon to return to Israel, to resettle the area of Judah and to rebuild the Holy Temple. (Jews in or from Iraq and Iran this century are decendants of those Jews who stayed in Babylon and did not return for the resettling of Judah and the building of the Second Holy Temple.)

The returning Jews encountered many hardships in their endeavor, not the least of which was the Samaritans, who often waged war against them. The Samaritans also attempted to sabotage the building of the Holy Temple. At one point they tried to turn the Holy Temple into a pagan temple for their own religion.

Among the tricks they tried was pretending to be interested in helping the rebuilding. The Jews had already had too much negative experience with the Samaritans to be fooled by this trick, so the Jews refused to allow the Samaritans to join.

The Samaritans did not like the competition, so they decided to prevent the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They told the king of Persia that the Jews were only pretending to rebuild the Holy Temple, but were really planning a revolt (which was not true). Persia put an immediate stop to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

Then a Jewish woman became queen of Persia. Her name was Esther. She could not convince her husband King Ahasueraus to allow the rebuilding of Holy Temple, but when her husband died she convinced her son Darius to let the Jews rebuild the Holy Temple.

Finally, in 352 B.C.E., the Holy Temple was rebuilt and rededicated. Around that time, prophecy came to an end. There are still other means of Divine Inspiration, but these are all of lesser levels.

The Samaritans continued to make trouble. When the Persians knuckled under the Macedonians, and Alexander the Great created the Greek empire, they tried to get Alexander to destroy the Holy Temple and kill all the Jews, and they almost succeeded. Even as late as the end of the first century C.E., the Samaritans were still ambushing and murdering Jews. The «good Samaritan» of the Christian bible is not only a myth, it is also a horrible false accusation against the Jews. It was akin to saying that the Nazis were good and the Jews were bad.

The Holy Temple stood from 352 B.C.E. until 68 C.E., a total of 420 years. In 68 C.E., the Romans (who were now the most powerful rulers of the world,) destroyed the Holy Temple.

They captured and enslaved most of the Jews who were in Judah, and sent them in exile to many parts of the world, including Italy and Spain.

We are still in the midst of that exile, and we await the coming of the Messiah, who will bring us — all twelve Tribes — back to the land of Israel, and will rule us with wisdom and benevolence.

So, let’s recap. The Periods of Jewish History are, basically:

  • Moses
  • Joshua
  • the Judges
  • the Kings (also known as the Later Prophets)
  • Destruction of the First Holy Temple
  • the Babylonian Exile
  • Second Holy Temple Era (also known as the Second Commonwealth)
  • Destruction of the Second Holy Temple
  • Roman Exile until today.

Tracing the Torah Back to Moses

We will show, with Hashem’s help, that during all that time, the Torah already existed. We will show that it was not created during the time of the Judges and the Early Prophets, nor during the time of the Kings, nor when the kingdom was divided into two, nor during the period of the two kingdoms, nor during the time of the Second Holy Temple, nor since then.

We will work backwards in time. Let’s first prove that the Bible is two thousand years old, and work backwards from there.

1,800 Years Ago
The Christians

I think there is little question that 1,800 years ago the Torah already existed. The Christians have been using their confused mistranslations of the Tanach at least since the second century C. E., and even trying to prove their mistaken beliefs from the Torah. So the Torah is certainly already in existence for about 1,800 years.

2,000 Years Ago
Josephus and Philo

But it certainly existed before then as well. Josephus lived almost two thousand years ago, around the first century C.E., and wrote his works probably around 75 C.E. Josephus mentions the Torah numerous times, and clearly refers to it as something that had been around a long time. In his work called Contra Apion, he writes:

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, as the Greeks have, but only twenty-four books, which contain the records of all things past; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. (Book 1, Chapter 1, Number 8)

There you have a clear reference to the Books of the Bible, and explicit mention of the Five Books of Moses. This is just one reference of many. Josephus mentions the Torah throughout many of his works. (See, for example, Antiquities of the Jews 4:8:3 and 2:16:5.)

Josephus is very clear that by his time there already existed a book of Laws written by Moses, and that it tells of the stories that Josephus himself tells in his Antiquities.

But was Josephus speaking of something new, or something that was already very old? Josephus was speaking of something that was already considered very old in his time. How do I know? Because he says so. In Contra Apion, Josephus writes that our Sacred Books are very old, and he asserts that no one has ever added to them or changed them in all the years since they were created.

…and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very
birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willing to die for them. It is no new thing for our captives, many of them in number, and frequently in time, to be seen to endure racks and deaths of all kinds upon the theaters, that they may not be obliged to say one word against our laws and the records that contain them; whereas there are none at all among the Greeks who would undergo the least harm on that account [i.e., for their own books]…. (1:1:8)

So it is quite clear that the Jews had these books, and believed in them, long before Josephus, who lived almost two thousand years ago. The Jews of his time, almost 2,000 years ago, already had all the Written Torah we have today, and believed them to be the originals, just as we believe today.

Let’s go back a little further. Philo (around 20 B.C.E. to around 50 C.E.) also talks about the Books of the Torah, in his work The Life of Moses (II:288-91). He also says that the books of the Torah are very old.

The writings of Josephus and Philo both prove that the Written Torah was already composed by the first century of the Common Era.

2,200 Years Ago
The Septuagint, Sadducees, and Ben Sira

Let’s go back a little more. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Torah first written by Rabbis and later changed dozens of times by numerous people), is claimed by the Gentiles to date back to 275 B.C.E. (Our Tradition dates it a bit later, at 245 B.C.E., according to Rabbi Fendel, in Legacy of Sinai, page 136.) So the Written Torah already existed at that time.

Also around that time, the emergence of the Sadducee and Boethusian sects took place. The Sadducees took as their platform the statement that they believed only in the Written Torah, and rejected the Oral Torah. Evidently, at that time both the Written Law and the Oral Law already existed.

So now we know that the Torah already existed by around 275 or so B.C.E. That’s 2,275 years ago, as I write this.

Let’s go back a little more. Ben Sira (circa 400 B.C.E.) also mentions the Books of Torah, in the same number and names that we have them today. So the Tanach existed then as well, around 2,400 years ago.

2,500 Years Ago
The Samaritans, and the Ten Tribes

We can go yet further back. The Samaritans learned the Torah from the Ten Tribes sometime around 550 B.C.E. So, by then the Chumash and Joshua were already written. Some of the Kohanim of the Ten Tribes taught it to them. Any time after that, the Samaritans would not have accepted the Torah from the people of Judah, because of the Samaritans’ hatred for them. So, since both the Jews and the Samaritans have the Chumash, we know that the Chumash had to have been written some time before 550 B.C.E., before the two groups stopped having contact with each other.

This also proves that the Torah could not have been written during the time of the two kingdoms. Since the Ten Tribes taught the Chumash to the Samaritans, that means the Ten Tribes had to have had the Chumash before they split off from the other two Tribes. During all the time that they were split, neither kingdom would never have taken Torah from the other.

Yet the later Books, written by Prophets among the two Tribes in Judah show numerous examples of how the Ten Tribes kept the Laws of the Torah (with occasional lapses), and that they had the Torah (see, for example, I Kings 21:13; II Kings 4:23, 7:3; Hosea 4:6; 8:1, 8:12; Amos 8:5, et. al.).

So, during the time of King Solomon, before the breakup of the nation into two kingdoms, the Chumash must have already existed. But they must have already existed earlier, or the Ten Tribes would never have accepted them. They took them because before they broke off these Books had already been fully accepted by all Israel.

2,800 Years Ago
King David

Could the Torah have been written during the time of King Solomon, or during the reign of his father, King David? Definitely not.

Consider what the Torah says about the nations of Moab.

The Torah (Deut. 23:4-7) says that a man from the nation of Moab may never marry a Jewish woman, even if he converts to Judaism. Even the descendant of a convert from Moab may never marry a Jewish woman. This was because of the way they treated us when we passed near their land on the way to the Land of Israel. They did not come forward to offer us bread and water, as was their custom. The women of Moab, however, after conversion to Judaism, are not forbidden to marry a Jewish man, because it was not the custom of the Moabite women to meet travelers with bread and water, and also because they had no connection with the attempt to curse Israel.

Now, you may remember that King David was a descendent from Ruth, a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism. You can imagine the trouble that must have caused. As a matter of fact, the Rabbis tells us that King David’s enemies certainly tried to get a lot of mileage out of that, and tried to claim, falsely, that a converted Moabite woman was also forbidden to marry a Jew.

Now, wouldn’t it simply have been easier for King David, if he wrote the Torah, to leave out that Law? It does not seem at all logical that King David would have written this in the Torah, or that any of the people of his time would have done that.

Therefore, that dates the Torah to at least before the time of King David, who was born in 836 B.C.E. That’s already 2836 years ago.

(By the way, King David and King Solomon are both mentioned in the history of the Phoenicians and the Tyrenes, according to Josephus. Both the Phoenicians and the Tyrenes did business with the Israelites during those eras.)

2,900 Years Ago
The Judges

Perhaps the Torah was written just before King David was born, during the era of the Judges? That, too, cannot be. The Torah says that it is forbidden to wage war against the nations of Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:19). Yet the Judges all the way from after Joshua to King David (inclusive) fought with those nations! Ammon invaded Israel during the time of Yiftach the Judge (around 970 B.C.E.), and Moab oppressed them during the time of Ehud the Judge (around 1160 B.C.E.). They had to fight with them out of self-defense, so they would never have included such a Law in the Torah had they composed it!

The Israelites spent a great deal of time and energy, and lost many good people defending themselves against those nations. Would the Prophets or Judges or anyone of that time have written a Law stating that it was forbidden to attack Moab or Amon if they were inventing the Torah? So the Torah could not have been written during the time of the Judges either.

Therefore the Torah predates the Judges, and come from the time of Moses and Joshua! That means that we have had the Torah for 3,313 years. And therefore, the Torah tells us that Moses told the Children of Israel:

Only take heed and watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let this memory leave your hearts, all the days of your lives. Teach your children, and your children’s children about the day you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horeb (Deut. 4:9-10).

(Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.)

Moses wrote the Torah according to the instructions given him by Hashem. Hashem dictated the Torah to Moses, letter by letter. Moses then taught it to the Children of Israel. And we have studied the Torah ever since, for 3,313 or so years.

Of course, the Torah itself is much older than that. Our Tradition tells us that Hashem created the Torah, both the Written and the Oral, 2,000 years before He created the universe. Hashem used it as a blueprint when He created the universe. And Hashem then kept it until it was time for us to receive it.

(The approach of this article, as well as some of the proofs, I took primarily from the works of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, especially Sing You Righteous, paragraphs 102-121.)

Jewish History Timeline

Event Jewish Calendar Gentile Calendar

Creation 1 -3761
Noah born 1056 -2705
The Flood 1656 -2105
Abraham born 1948 -1813
Covenant Between the Parts 2018 -1743
Isaac born 2048 -1713
Jacob & Family go down to Egypt 2238 -1523
The Exodus and the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 2448 -1313
The Children of Israel enter the Land of Israel 2489 -1272
King David born 2854 -907
King Solomon born 2912 -849
King Solomon builds the Holy Temple 2928 -833
Rebellion of the Ten Tribes; kingdom is split into two kingdoms: Israel of ten tribes, and Judah of two 2964 -796
Israel conquered by Shalmanesser, Israel exiled to places unknown 3205 -555
Holy Temple destroyed; Judah exiled to Babylon 3338 -422
Holy Temple rebuilt. End of Era of Prophecy; beginning of Mishnaic Era 3408 -352
Second Holy Temple destroyed 3828 68
Mishnaic Rabbis: Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon conduct the Seder in Bnai Brak 3870? 110?
End of Mishnaic Era; beginning of Talmudic (Amoraic) Era 3948 188
Abbaye and Rava teach the Talmud 4100 340
End of Talmudic Era; beginning of Savoraic Era 4260 500
End of Savoraic Era; beginning of Gaonic Era 4349 589
Rav Saadya Gaon born 4642 882
End of Gaonic Era; beginning of Rishonim Era 4798 1038
Rashi born 4800 1040
Maimonides born 4895 1135
End of Rishonim Era; beginning of Achronim Era 5200? 1440?
Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of Shulchan Aruch, born 5248 1488
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, born 5294 1534
Bal Shem Tov born 5458 1698

The History of the Exodus

This article has been expanded and improved in my new book, now at the publishers:

The Beginner’s Guide to Making the Seder

It all began when Abraham realized that there is a Creator Who directs the entire universe. Abraham set about teaching the world that the Creator wants everyone to do acts of charity and loving kindness to everyone else in the world. Abraham dedicated himself entirely to the service of G-d, and he elevated himself to an unprecedented level of holiness. G-d therefore granted Abraham divine experiences and prophecy.

On the fifteenth day of the month that was later to be called Nisan, in the year 2018 after Creation, G-d made a covenant, an agreement, with Abraham, called the Convenant Between the Parts (see Genesis 15:1-19). In this agreement G-d promised Abraham that he would father a new nation that would continue Abraham’s work, and that eventually he would have so many descendants they would be uncountable. However, they would have to undergo many hardships, including exile, slavery, and oppression. Eventually, his descendants would be rescued from slavery, on that very same day of the year—the fifteenth of Nisan—and G-d would bring them to the Land of Israel.

 fter the Flood, Noah had divided up all the land between his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Canaan, son of Ham, along with other descendants of Ham, stole the choice land that came to be known as Canaan. It was Shem’s property, and belonged to his children. Three-hundred-sixty-two years later, G-d promised Abraham, a descendant of Shem, that some day the land would be given back to his descendants.

Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Only Isaac obeyed G-d, and so G-d chose Isaac to continue Abraham’s Tradition. Isaac also had two sons: Jacob (also called Israel) and Esau. Only Jacob obeyed G-d, and so Jacob was chosen. All of Jacob’s children were righteous, and they obeyed G-d.

G-d caused a famine in the land they were occupying (Canaan), so they would move down to Egypt. They settled in the district known as Goshen. Being descended from Jacob, who was also called Israel, they called themselves the Children of Israel. The Children of Israel numbered only seventy men and women at the time they entered Egypt. In just a few generations they increased until they became a vast nation.

They were recognizably a different nation because they lived a distinctly different life. They labored hard to retain their national identity so that they would not assimilate. They did this in three primary ways: They spoke their own language, they wore distinctively Jewish clothing, and they gave their children only Jewish names. And of course, they never married a non-Jew.

The Children of Israel had not intended to stay in Egypt very long, but before long the
Egyptians enslaved most of them. Many harsh and horrible decrees were passed against the Children of Israel in that time.

When astrologers told the Pharaoh that an Israelite male child born at that time would grow up to overthrow Pharaoh, Pharaoh decided to kill all the male children born to the Israelites. He ordered them thrown into the Nile River.

Pharaoh was stricken with a skin disease. His doctors told him that only baths of blood could cure his disease. So Pharaoh bathed in the blood of Israelite babies.

When the subjugation was at its worst, the Egyptians forced upon the Israelites an
unreasonable quota of bricks. If the Israelites failed to fill the quota of bricks, their children were killed in front of them, and the bodies were mixed into the brick-mortar.

This is but a small sampling of the horrors perpetrated against the Israelites in Egypt.

Finally, G-d spoke to Moses and told him to bring the good news to the Children of Israel that G-d was ready to take them out of Egypt. «I am G-d, and I will take you away from the oppression of Egypt, I will free you from their slavery…» G-d referred to the Children of Israel as «My son, My firstborn, Israel.» G-d told Moses to tell Pharaoh to allow the Children of Israel to leave Egypt. If Pharaoh refused, G-d would punish him and all recalcitrant Egyptians.

Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses’ warnings, and so G-d sent the Plague of Blood. All the water belonging to the Egyptians turned into blood, and the Egyptians had to buy water from the Israelites if they did not want to die of thirst. Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. So G-d sent them the Plague of Frogs. Frogs overran Egypt, and their incessant croaking drove the Egyptians mad. This was worse than the frogs’ annoying habit of getting into everything. Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. So G-d sent more plagues.

After the ninth plague, the Plague of Darkness, G-d gave the Israelites two Commandments: Circumcision, and the Passover Sacrifice. Both symbolized complete loyalty to G-d. Circumcision signifies that a man will so devote himself to G-d that he holds even his strongest physical desires in check (though does not deny its needs). Circumcision is a sign one makes on one’s body, signifying that one will use one’s body only in such a manner as G-d allows.

The Passover Sacrifice was also a great act of devotion. The Passover Sacrifice was brought from lambs or goats, animals worshiped by the Egyptians. The lamb was one of the Egyptian deities. To kill and eat the oppressor’s G-d was the greatest act of devotion to the True G-d, the Creator of heaven and earth. It showed that the Israelites repudiated any association with false G-ds. It showed that they were willing to risk their lives to obey G-d, despite the fear that the Egyptians might get angry and take revenge.

To highlight this, the Children of Israel were commanded to keep the body of the Passover lamb intact. They were forbidden to break any of the bones. The next morning they were required to place their lamb skeletons — intact — on display in the public marketplace, so the Egyptians would see what they had done.

Some of the Egyptians did indeed get angry, but they were afraid to take revenge against the Israelites.

G-d commanded the Children of Israel to eat the Passover Sacrifice on the fifteenth night of the month of Nisan. (Since in Judaism the night precedes the day, this is the night before the fifteenth day of Nisan. The fifteenth of Nisan therefore starts at the beginning of the night, and ends at nightfall around twenty-four hours later.) The Children of Israel were commanded to do a number of things that night: to eat the Passover sacrifice, to eat matzah and bitter herbs, and to tell their children the miracles G-d had performed for them. This was the Passover Seder —the same Seder Jews have performed every year since then. In addition, the Israelites were forbidden to have any leavened bread in their possession or on their property for the entire Holiday of Passover.

Just before the tenth plague, the Plague of the Firstborn, many firstborn Egyptians rose up in rebellion, insisting that Pharaoh release the Israelites. They had heard Moses warn Pharaoh and the Egyptians of the Plague that was to come, the Slaying of the Firstborn, and they were frightened. Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites, and the firstborn took their swords and began to kill everyone they met. Eventually, Pharaoh put down the rebellion with his army.

At exactly midnight, at the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, G-d passed through Egypt, killing all the firstborn and oldest in each and every household, except those of the Israelites who had prepared and eaten the Passover Sacrifice. G-d «passed over» the houses of the Israelites, and thus we call this Holiday «Passover.»

Not only the firstborn were struck. Every idol in Egypt was disintegrated as well. Not a single idol remained intact, with the exception of the idol known as Ba’al Tzefon, because it stood just outside the borders of Egypt. This idol was allowed to continue to exist so that the Egyptians would have the free choice to choose between G-d and an idol.

Only after the Plague of the Firstborn began did Pharaoh agree to let the Israelites leave
Egypt. Pharaoh was also a firstborn, and he suddenly feared death. Pharaoh begged the
Israelites to leave immediately, during the night, while the firstborn were still dying.

Moses told him that they refused to leave in the dead of night, like thieves, or like escaped slaves. The Children of Israel would leave during the day, and everyone would know they were being released.

The next morning, on the fifteenth day of Nisan, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to
immediately leave Egypt. Moses told the Children of Israel to call upon all the Egyptians
they knew and ask them for their gold and jewelry. The Children of Israel obeyed, and the Egyptians hurriedly gave them their valuables.

Rushed as they were, the Israelites did not have time to prepare food, and the dough they kneaded did not have time to rise. So, they were forced to bake them as matzos—unleavened (i.e., unrisen) bread. This little bit of matzah miraculously lasted them thirty-one days.

The Children of Israel wrapped up their matzah and bitter herbs in their clothing, placed the bundles over their shoulders, and walked joyfully out of the land of Egypt. They trusted in G-d, and they obeyed G-d’s orders and walked into the desert without sufficient provisions. Though they took along with them many animals, they carried the matzah on their own shoulders; they cherished G-d’s Commandment so much that they would not allow their donkeys to carry the matzah.

This took place on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan—the first day of Passover. It was precisely four-hundred-thirty years to the day since G-d had promised Abraham his children would be released from Egypt. G-d had said that the descendants of Abraham would be in exile for four hundred years. G-d had mercy and counted the exile from the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham, who lived in exile all his life. The Israelites were in the Land of Egypt for only two hundred ten years.

The next day, on the sixteenth of Nisan, G-d told Moses to inform the Israelites that they would soon be receiving the Torah: G-d’s Commandments and the wisdom with which they would live their lives. In excitement, they began counting the days until they would be at Mount Sinai and receive the Torah from G-d. Because of that reaction, G-d granted the Children of Israel yet another Commandment: each year we count from the second day of Passover until Shavuos, the day we received the Torah. This counting later came to be called Sefiras Ha’Omer.

Very soon thereafter, Pharaoh regretted his decision to release the Israelites. He gathered his army and they began chasing the Israelites through the desert. They chased them until the Sea of Suf, the Sea of Reeds. G-d split and dried the Reed Sea so that the Israelites could walk through it on dry land. The Israelites did not cross to the other side, but circled around and came back to the same side further along the shore. When the Egyptians attempted to follow, G-d sent the sea back to drown them. This took place on the seventh day after the Children of Israel left Egypt, the twenty-first of Nisan, the seventh day of Passover.

The death of the Egyptians was not a simple drowning. The Egyptians were paid back in full for all the horrors they had perpetrated upon the Children of Israel. The worst Egyptians were tossed up and down like straw, and suffered many punishments while drowning. Some sank like stones, and experienced some extra punishments. The best of the Egyptians, those that inflicted less pain on the Israelites, sank like lead and were drowned almost immediately.

The Egyptians were punished with many more plagues at the sea than they received in Egypt.

When the Israelites saw the magnitude of their rescue, they were catapulted into an elevated state of holiness, and each and every one of them began to prophesy. Together they sang the «Song at the Sea,» in which they praised G-d for all the might and power He had shown them.

The Exodus therefore did more than simply release the Israelites from slavery. It also brought them into an exalted level of holiness. To be sure, they did not remain at that extremely high state of prophecy, but the Exodus gave to the Children of Israel the special status of G-d’s Chosen People and G-d’s holy nation of priests. From then on the Children of Israel have been a holy people, special to G-d.

Why were the Israelites chosen by G-d? Because of the great merit of the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This merit, the Torah declares, will last us forever.

G-d promised us that we would always be the Chosen People, and that no matter how badly we sinned, no matter how badly we would be punished, we would never be rejected or forsaken by G-d. After all, we were not chosen in our own merit, so our sins cannot lose us that status.

G-d warned us that we might have to undergo many exiles, and many troubles, but we would always be G-d’s People.

A number of nations have been freed from slavery. None have been freed from slavery with overt miracles, signs and wonders performed by visitations of G-d. No other nation has ever witnessed en masse miracles that declared them the chosen of G-d. This has happened only for the Children of Israel.

It was necessary, however, for the Children of Israel to raise themselves up by their own

efforts, so that they could receive the ultimate treasure—the Torah. They used the counting of the Omer to lift themselves up step by step until they were ready to receive the Torah.

On their way to Mount Sinai, they stopped over at a place called Marah, where G-d taught them some of the Commandments, such as the Sabbath, honoring of one’s parents, and various civil laws, including the humane treatment of slaves. G-d promised the Children of Israel, «If you observe My Commandments, you will be spared from the diseases I visited upon the Egyptians.»

They left Marah, and reached Ailam on the fifteenth of Iyar, exactly one month after they had left Egypt. At that time, the matzah they had brought with them from Egypt, which had miraculously lasted them until then, came to an end. The next day, G-d gave them Manna to eat. The Manna fell from heaven every day except on the Sabbath. On Friday, twice as much Manna fell. The people would then collect twice as much Manna, so that they would not have to violate the Sabbath by collecting the Manna during the Sabbath. The Children of Israel ate Manna for all the forty years they were in the Sinai Desert.

The Children of Israel continued to count the days until the receiving of the Torah. On the fiftieth day after they began counting the Omer—that is, fifty-one days after the Exodus, all of the Children of Israel, men, women and children, over two million people, stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah amidst great miracles and heavenly fire. They saw no form or picture of G-d, but they saw many miracles that proved that G-d is the Creator of heaven and earth. They heard G-d’s voice speak and command Moses to instruct the Children of Israel on how to prepare to receive the Torah. Then they heard G-d speaking directly to them, the Children of Israel, and commanding them to keep the Torah. The Children of Israel accepted the Torah and all its Commandments, and they said: «We agree to obey, even before we hear the actual Commandments.»

At Mount Sinai, G-d gave us all of the Torah, with six hundred thirteen Commandments. Ten of them, the basic ten categories of the Commandments, were written on the Two Tablets. (These «Ten Statements» are often mistakenly called the «Ten Commandments.»)

G-d also commanded the Children of Israel to build the Tabernacle. That was the Sanctuary, the place where G-d showed His Holy Presence daily, and to where everyone had to bring all their sacrifices. There were also daily sacrifices brought there by the priests on behalf of the Children of Israel. The Tabernacle was a sort of mobile Sanctuary, which the Levites took apart whenever Israel traveled, and reassembled whenever the people camped.

The Children of Israel were in the Sinai desert for forty years. At the end of the forty years, Moses and most of that generation passed away. Joshua the son of Nun was now the leader, and he took them into the land of Canaan and took back the land from the descendants of Ham. They renamed the land «Israel.»

Almost five hundred years later, they built the Holy Temple, the stationary Sanctuary.
Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Babylonians when the Israelites sinned four hundred ten years later. The Children of Israel went into exile in Babylon for seventy years. Afterwards, many returned and rebuilt the Holy Temple. This time it stood for four hundred twenty years, until it was again destroyed, this time by the Romans, when the Israelites sinned.

Now that we have no Holy Temple in Jerusalem, we are forbidden to make a Passover
Sacrifice. Yet G-d had promised us that though we would experience many exiles, we would always be G-d’s Chosen People, and we would never be rejected or forsaken by G-d. G-d has promised us the Messiah, who will come and reinstate the Kingdom of Israel. Then we will all go to the rebuilt Jerusalem and offer the Passover Sacrifice and hold the Seder as we really should.

Thus, in past, present, and future, the story of the Exodus is one of special relationship
between G-d and His people. Throughout the Hagadah, no mention is made of the role of any individual human being on behalf of the Children of Israel. Therefore, it is a mistake to place any importance on any personalities during the Seder, as important as they were. The Redemption was G-d’s doing, and solely G-d’s doing.