Keeping Torah Before it was Given


As we all know, the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, long after the life of Yaakov. But Yaakov is said to have studied Torah at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber. How is that possible that he could study Torah when the Torah had not been given yet, and when the Torah mostly describes events that took place after his lifetime? How is it possible that the concept of a yeshiva existed then when there were so few monotheists in the world who had Torah values?

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  1. The verse states, Bereshis 26:5, that Avraham kept the Torah. Rav Chaim V’Lozhiner explains in Nefesh HaChaim, that, in the same way that Mankind can reach scientific conclusions through their intellect, so too can Mankind reach spiritual conclusions as well. If a person is sensitive enough, it is even possible to reach the hidden depths of the Torah.

    That is what Avraham did. Through the wonders and the intricacies of the world, Avraham built up an awareness of Hashem that finally led to a complete and absolute understanding of his own responsibilities. Therefore, Avraham’s sense of awareness of the Creator was so great that he was able to come to a rational explanation for keeping the Commandments without actually being told how or what to do. This information was then passed on to Yitzchak and Yaakov.

    The Maharal, in his commentary on the Torah, notes an important difference between the pre-Torah Giving era and post-Torah Giving. Before the Giving of the Torah, the Commandments were kept voluntarily. Rav Chaim M’Vlozhin, the foremost student of the Vilna Gaon, writes in his classic work called Nefesh HaChaim that if there was an overwhelming reason to act contrary to the Halacha, the Patriarchs and their offspring were permitted to do so. This explains how it was permissible for Yaakov to marry two sisters (an act that is forbidden by Jewish Law) – Yaakov had an innate sense that Rachel was his true soulmate and when he found himself married to Leah – Rachel’s sister – and he realized that in order to father the twelve sons who would become the Twelve Tribes of Israel he would need to marry them both.

    Best wishes from the Team

  2. So if the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were supposedly the only monotheists of that time, who were the other students of the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber? Did they have a large student body, or was it just Jacob himself?

  3. No, they were not the only Monotheists. There were those that had learnt about the belief in One God from Shem and Ever. There were also the thousands of people that Avraham had taught and introduced to Monotheism.

    Best wishes from the Team