Friday, November 25, 2011

Sforno vs Rashi: Did the Patriarchs keep the Commandments?

Did the patriarchs keep the Torah?

  • The mainstream view: Yes. The verse says
    עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתי
    ...because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws. The last word in the verse, וְתוֹרֹתָי, is plural. So, the ancestors kept two Torahs, the written and oral. (Rashi, Midrash)
  • Sforno says: The passage refers to the Noachide laws, not to laws that were revealed later, and not to the oral laws.
  • The appeal of Sforno's reading: We're spared the incongruity of imagining forefather who kept laws, and celebreated rituals that developed contingently in response to historical events. Matzo, for example, is eaten because the Jews rushed out of Egypt. Amelek is despised because they attacked us. The lulav and esrog are waved for seven days because R. Yochanan Ben Zackai wanted to keep the memory of the Temple alive after its destruction. Before these events occurred, the rituals that developed in response to those events did not exist, and there was no reason to perform them. An Abraham who celebrated Pesach, therefore, makes us much sense as an Abraham who commemorated the Satmar Rebbe's yartzeit. 

What do other Rishonim say about this? See it here

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