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Pirkei Avot 1:1 Torah from Sinai

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.  (Pirkei Avot 1:1)

Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura explained that “From Sinai” means “From He Who was revealed at Sinai.” The Tosfot Yom Tov adds “And there, when He was revealed at Sinai, (Moses) received it with all its rules, details and intricacies…(including) what a senior student will innovate in the future, Moses received it all.” It is explained that “Moses received the Torah” refers especially to the Oral Torah, which is accepted from the time of Moses and was passed on from generation to generation. (In this case, the word Torah is explained as meaning hora’ah [instruction]. The teaching of the Torah in its practical application is specifically explained in the Oral Torah).

The commentators ask why the mishnah writes that Moses received the Torah from Sinai and not from God. If the mishnah wants to relate the geographic location where the Torah was received, it should have said “Moses received the Torah at Sinai.” On a simple level, the meaning of “from Sinai” is based on the verse, “God came from Sinai.”[1] The sages also use the phrase “a law of Moses from Sinai” in many places. What is the meaning of the word MiSinai (from Sinai)? The following are some of the primary explanations given:

A: Seclusion: Moses received the Torah “from the aspect of his being secluded on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights.”[2] We can parallel this explanation to the sefirah of crown, the place of seclusion that is not comprehended or attained (reaching up until the highest head of the crown, the Unknowable Head, where the chevyon oz ha’atzmut  [latency of the boldness of the essence] of He Who was revealed at Sinai, can be found).

B: Humility: We can learn the attribute of humility from Mount Sinai. The sages say that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai because of its humility and that Moses merited to receive the Torah “because he was humble like Mount Sinai.”[3] (“And the man Moses was more humble than any man on the face of the earth”). [4] We can parallel this explanation to the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom), the inner dimension of which is nullification. In Hebrew, chochmah can be permuted to koach mah (the power of what), the attribute of Moses who said, referring to himself and Aaron, “And we are what”.[5] This is the root of Moses, “from the water I drew him out (.(משיתהו”[6] He was nullified in the waters of chochmah.

C: Remembrance: Moses merited the Torah because of his purification at Mount Sinai: “Forty days and forty nights, bread he did not eat and water he did not drink.”[7] This is the meaning of “from Sinai’’ – “For he stayed there on the mountain to cleanse the food and drink that was in his gut, to make him like the angels…and this is what stood for him to make it possible for him to receive the Oral Torah.”[8] [This is how Moses became pure like an angel, so much so that he had to separate from his wife (for he was “married to the Shechinah,” the “bride of Moses”). This explanation parallels the sefirah of binah (understanding). “Moses merited (zachah, the same root as zikuch [purification] binah. Nullification is in chochmah and purification of the body-vessel is in binah. (Chochmah is the light, while binah is the vessel).

As we can see, the word MiSinai beckons interpretation. If we just look at the simple meaning of the mishnah, it could have simply been written “Moses received the Torah and passed it on to Joshua,” (משה קבל תורה ומסרה ליהושע ) without MiSinai. Hence, we can calculate the numerical value of this phrase (משה קבל תורה ומסרה ליהושע ). It equals 1820, which is the number of times that God’s Name Havayah appears in the Torah. (1820 = sod (secret) times Havayah) and fourteen times Sinai!



[1] Deuteronomy 33:2.

[2] Mirkevet Hamishneh by Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel.

[3] Shoshanim LeDavid. And similarly in Petach Einayim, Avodat Yisrael, Tiferet Yisrael.

[4] Numbers 12:3.

[5] Exodus 16:7.

[6] Exodus 2:10.

[7] Exodus 34:28.

[8] Lechem Shamayim.

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