THE TORAH OF MESORAH - The Torah of Mesorah 3

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Committing ideas to writing has many advantages – it creates permanence and a basis for interpretation. However, certain things cannot be expressed effectively in writing. For example, learning to sew, or paint from text alone is virtually impossible. One must be taught by someone with greater knowledge then himself. He must also be shown examples and have certain techniques demonstrated.

The situation is no different when trying to capture the infinite will of God in the finite language of man. A close reading of the Torah reveals many ambiguous, unclarified statements and terms. For example:

  •  And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and as totafot between your eyes; for with a mighty hand did the LORD bring us forth out of Egypt. – Exodus 13:6
  •  The word totafot occurs in two similar passages (Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18), yet is not defined nor does it have any helpful Hebrew cognates.
  •  Similarly, The Torah writes: …When you shall say ‘I want to eat meat’… you shall slaughter of your herd and flock, according to how I have commanded ”     Deuteronomy 12:20-21
  • The Torah is referring to some method of slaughter commanded by God; however the Torah nowhere records this
  • This month shall be for you the first of the Months – Exodus 12:2.
  • What month is being referred to? Egyptian months (where the Jews lived), or Chaldean months (where Avraham came from). Is the Torah talking about Lunar or Solar months?
  • Let no man leave his place on the seventh day – Exodus 16:29.
  • What “place” may man not leave on the Sabbath? His home? His City? His recliner?
  • Jethro instructed Moses to appoint judges and to: enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. – Exodus 18:20.
  • If the written Torah is complete and the only guiding force, then what is left for Moses to instruct? As well, the phrase: …make known to them the way they are to go…, informs us that there is some system or method by which judges are to rule.

Despite all of these ambiguities, the Psalms refer to the Torah as perfect:

The Torah of God is perfect, restoring the soul…3

How can a perfect text contain so many ambiguities? The answer is that Torah is not merely the text of the Torah. There is an orally transmitted, experiential component to the Torah, one which clarifies the ambiguities and, in combination with the written text, is called perfect.4

The Torah itself explicitly alludes to this larger conception of the Torah in Leviticus 26:46: These are the statutes and the ordinances, and the Toros [plural of Torah] that God has given…

If the written Torah was the only expression of Torah, then the verse would simply read: This is the Torah that God has given! However, the verse refers to much more: the multiple facets of the Torah.


3 Psalms 19:8.

4 Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim III: 23. For other proofs to the necessity of an orally transmitted component of the Torah, see Kuzari 3:35; Moreh Nevuchim I:71; Rashbatz in Mogen Avos Chelek HaFilosofi II:3; Rashbash Duran in Milchemes Mitzvah, Hakdama I. See also Rashi to Eruvin 21b s.v. VeYoser; Gur Aryeh to Shemos 34:27.