The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses

Author: Louis Ginzberg

Moses Receives the Torah

When Moses reached heaven, he found God occupied ornamenting the letters in which the Torah was written, with little crown-like decorations, and he looked on without saying a word. God then said to him: "In thy home, do not people know the greeting of peace?" Moses: "Does it behoove a servant to address his Master?" God: "Thou mightest at least have wished Me success in My labors." Moses hereupon said: "Let the power of my Lord be great according as Thou hast spoken." [249] Then Moses inquired as the significance of the crowns upon the letter, and was answered: "Hereafter there shall live a man called Akiba, son of Joseph, who will base in interpretation a gigantic mountain of Halakot upon every dot of these letters." Moses said to God: "Show me this man." God: "Go back eighteen ranks." Moses went where he was bidden, and could hear the discussions of the teacher sitting with his disciples in the eighteenth rank, but was not able to follow these discussions, which greatly grieved him. But just then he heard the disciples questioning their master in regard to a certain subject: "Whence dost thou know this?" And he answered, "This is a Halakah given to Moses on Mount Sinai," and not Moses was content. Moses returned to God and said to Him: "Thou has a man like Akiba, and yet dost Thou give the Torah to Israel through me!" But God answered: "Be silent, so has it been decreed by Me." Moses then said: "O Lord of the world! Thou has permitted me to behold this man’s learning, let see also the reward which will be meted out to him." God said: "Go, return and see." Moses saw them sell the flesh of the martyr Akiba at the meat market. He said to God: "Is this the reward for such erudition?" But God replied: "Be silent, thus have I decreed." [250]

Moses then saw how God wrote the word "long-suffering" in the Torah, and asked: "Does this mean that Thou hast patience with the pious?" But God answered: "Nay, with sinners also am I long-suffering." "What!" exclaimed Moses, "Let the sinners perish!" God said no more, but when Moses implored God’s mercy, begging Him to forgive the sin of the people of Israel, God answered him: "Thou thyself didst advice Me to have no patience with sinners and to destroy them." "Yea," said Moses, "but Thou didst declare that Thou art long-suffering with sinners also, let now the patience of the Lord be great according as Thou has spoken." [251]

The forty days that Moses spent in heaven were entirely devoted to the study of the Torah, he learned the written as well as the oral teaching, yea, even the doctrines that an able scholar would some day propound were revealed to him. [252] He took an especial delight in hearing the teachings of the Tanna Rabbi Eliezer, and received the joyful message that this great scholar would be one of his descendants. [253]

The study of Moses was so planned for the forty days, that by day God studied with him the written teachings, and by night the oral. In this way was he enabled to distinguish between night and day, for in heaven "the night shineth as the day." There were other signs also by which he could distinguish night from day; for if he heard the angels praise God with "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts," he knew that it was day; but if they praised Him with "Blessed be the Lord to whom blessing is due," he knew it was night. Then, too, if he saw the sun appear before God and cast itself down before Him, he knew that it was night; if, however, the moon and the stars cast themselves at His feet, he knew that it was day. He could also tell time by the occupation of the angels, for by day they prepared manna for Israel, and by night they sent it down to earth. The prayers he heard in heaven served him as another token whereby he might know the time, for if he heard the recitation of the Shema’ precede prayer, he knew that it was day, but if the prayer preceded the recitation of the Shema’, then it was night. [254]

During his stay with Him, God showed Moses all the seven heavens, and the celestial temple, and the four colors that he was to employ to fit up the tabernacle. Moses found it difficult to retain the color, whereupon God said to him: "Turn to the right," and as he turned, he saw a host of angels in garments that had the color of the sea. "This," said God, "is violet." Then He bade Moses turn to the left, and there he saw angels dressed in red, and God said: "This is royal purple." Moses hereupon turned around to the rear, and saw angels robed in a color that was neither purple nor violet, and God said to him: "This color is crimson." Moses then turned about and saw angels robed in white, and God said to him: "This is the color of twisted linen." [255]

Although Moses now devoted both night and day to the study of the Torah, he still learned nothing, for hardly had he learned something from God when he forgot it again. Moses thereupon said to God: "O Lord of the world! Forty days have I devoted to studying the Torah, without having profited anything by it." God therefore bestowed the Torah upon Moses, and now he could descend to Israel, for now he remembered all that he had learned. [256]

Hardly had Moses descended from heaven with the Torah, when Satan appeared before the Lord and said: "Where, forsooth, is the place where the Torah is kept?" For Satan knew nothing of the revelation of God on Sinai, as God had employed him elsewhere on purposes, that he might not appear before him as an accuser, saying: "Wilt Thou give the Torah to a people that forty days later will worship the Golden Calf?" In answer to Satan’s question regarding the whereabouts of the Torah, God said: "I gave the Torah to Earth." To earth, then, Satan betook himself with his query: "Where is the Torah?" Earth said: "God knows of its course, He knoweth its abiding-place, for ’He looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven.’" Satan now passed on to the sea to seek for the Torah, but the sea also said: "It is not with me," and the abyss said: "It is not in me." Destruction and death said: "We have heard the fame thereof with our ears." Satan now returned to God and said: "O Lord of the world! Everywhere have I sought the Torah, but I found it not." God replied: "Go, seek the son of Amram." Satan now hastened to Moses and asked him: "Where is the Torah that God hath given thee?" Whereupon Moses answered: "Who am I, that the Holy One, blessed be He, should have given me the Torah?" God hereupon spoke to Moses: "O Moses, thou utterest a falsehood." But Moses answered: "O Lord of the world! Thou hast in Thy possession a hidden treasure that daily delights Thee. Dare I presume to declare it my possession?" Then God said: "As a reward for thy humility, the Torah shall be named for thee, and it shall henceforth be known as the Torah of Moses." [257]

Moses departed from the heavens with the two tables on which the Ten Commandments were engraved, and just the words of it are by nature Divine, so too are the tables on which they are engraved. These were created by God’s own hand in the dusk of the first Sabbath at the close of the creation, and were made of a sapphire-like stone. On each of the two tables are the Ten Commandments, four times repeated, and in such wise were they engraved that the letters were legible on both sides, for, like the tables, the writing and the pencils for inscription, too, were of heavenly origin. Between the separate commandments were noted down all the precepts of the Torah in all their particulars, although the tables were not more than six hands in length and as much in width. [258] It is another of the attributes of the tables, that although they are fashioned out of the hardest stone, they can still be rolled up like a scroll. [259] When God handed the tables to Moses, He seized them by the top third, whereas Moses took hold of the bottom third, but on third remained open, and it was in this way that the Divine radiance was shed upon Moses’ face. [260]


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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "Moses Receives the Torah," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022,

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "Moses Receives the Torah." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'Moses Receives the Torah' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from