the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Earlier and Later in Exodus
Yossi Brachya, Attorney
A skillfully written literary work is characterized, among other things, by harmony and organization, its events following in orderly sequence; all the more so when dealing with a divinely created work.  Therefore, it would seem that the rule, “the Torah is not chronologically arranged,”  should rarely have to be applied, and only after the fact, for the Torah is said to be well-ordered.
The cases for which the Rabbis and commentators invoked the rule, “the Torah is not chronologically arranged,” can be divided into several categories:
Contrary to what has been said above, Nahmanides was of the opinion that there was no need whatsoever to apply the rule, “the Torah is not chronologically arranged,” to anything in Exodus (see below), since the readings in this book indicate that the subjects discussed therein occurred one after the other, in chronological order. But Rashi, who was not for changing the order in the story of Judah and Tamar (even at the cost of having to assume an almost impossible age for the marriage of Judah’s offspring), makes many changes in the order of events set forth in Exodus, due to exegetical difficulties which could easily have been solved otherwise, as other commentators indeed did do.
Rashi suggested a different chronological order for four events in Exodus:
Contrary to Rashi’s views, Nahmanides  is of the opinion that there is no reason to change the order of events in all four cases and that all the events are described neatly in the order in which they occurred; he also holds that all the difficulties can be resolved locally. This is because Nahmanides believed that the Torah is in order:
As I have already written, it is my opinion that the Torah is entirely chronological, save for places where Scripture explicitly gives an earlier or later timing, and even in such instances it is done for a specific end and proper reason. (Ramban, commentary on Num. 16:1)
Indeed, Rashi’s approach is surprising. It appears contrary to the plain sense of the text and makes of Exodus a book which lacks order, sometimes even when there is no patently clear reason for the reordering suggested by Rashi. Nahmanides’ criticism of Rashi is well-taken in all the questions discussed, save for the issue of the timing of the command to build the Tabernacle. In this matter we are faced with a disagreement over a matter of principle.
According to Nahmanides’ interpretation of Exodus 35:1, the command to build the Tabernacle was given from the outset and not as a remedy for the sin of the golden calf. This was a commandment that would have been given in any event, as a sign of the Lord’s love for His people and His wish that they be close to Him:
Let it be said to all that the matter of the Tabernacle they were commanded to make from the outset, prior to Moses breaking the tablets, since the Holy One, blessed be He, found them pleasing to Him and gave him a second set of tablets, ... so they returned to their former state and the love of their marriage ... therefore Moses commanded them now to do all that had been commanded from the outset.
In contrast, Rashi is of the opinion that the command to build the Tabernacle was given after the fact, only as a response to the pagan inclinations that the Israelites still showed and that needed the remedy of worshipping the Lord by means of the Tabernacle. 
The grounds for Rashi’s position can be found in remarks by Sforno (on Ex. 24:18). He holds that the original commandment to offer sacrifices to the Lord was not restricted to a specific place nor to a specific tribe (Levi) that would minister the sacred service, rather, “in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you” (Ex. 20:21), and that this intention was changed only as a result of the sin of the golden calf. 
In conclusion, it should be noted that Nahmanides is consistent in his position that the commandments were given from the outset, independent of any connection with a specific event or a certain social or religious condition. This can be seen, for example, in his argument against Maimonides’ position on the reason for the sacrifices (Lev. 1:9). 
 Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, father of the “aspects theory,” holds the exact opposite to be the case. In his opinion, it is precisely the lack of order that expresses the divine nature of the Torah. Breuer’s ideas in English can be seen in M. Breuer, “The Study of the Bible and the Primacy of the Fear of Heaven,” Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah, ed. Shalom Carmy, Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1996, 159-180.
 Ein muqdam u-meuhar ba-Torah first appears in Rashi in his commentary to Genesis 6:3 and his commentary on Tractate Pesahim 6b.
 See Rashi on Numbers 9:1 and Nahmanides, loc. sit.
example of this type is the story of the manna in Exodus 16 which descended
immediately after the Exodus from
 Many examples of this kind can be given. For example, Noah’s death is mentioned in the middle of Parashat Noah (Gen. 9:29), and the birth of Abraham only at the end of that weekly reading, even though when Noah died Abraham was 58 years old (according to the elegant mnemonic coined by Ibn Ezra: “Our patriarch Abraham was 58 (nun”het) years old when Noah (nun – het) died” (commentary on Gen. 6:9). Likewise the death of Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, and others is reported before the Torah commences with the activities of their sons, even though the fathers were still alive while the sons were active.
 Gen. 38:1. On more than one occasion Ibn Ezra changes the order of events from that in which they are narrated when he encounters exegetical difficulties. In his opinion, Jethro came to meet the Israelites in the wilderness prior to Revelation at Mount Sinai (Ex. 18:1). Similarly, he is of the opinion that the episode of Korah and his following took place immediately after the sin of the golden calf (Num. 16:1), etc.
 In his commentary on chapter 29 (section 16, pp. 183-185 in the Mosad ha-Rav Kook edition).
 Regarding Rashi’s position whether Jethro came before or after Revelation at Sinai, see Siftei Hakhamim.
 In this matter there seems to be no exegetical difficulty that warrants changing the order of the narrative.
[This Bible commentary is in memory of my mother, Miriam Brachya bat Maimon and Mas’uda.]
 Rashi also follows the general rule that the Torah is not necessarily chronological with regard to the book of Leviticus. So, for example, what is narrated from Lev. 8:1 on, took place on the 23rd of Adar, one week before the erection of the Tabernacle on the first of Nisan, an event which already had been described earlier, in chapter 40 at the end of Exodus.
 See his commentary on Exodus 18:1, 24:1, 33:7, 35:1, as well as Leviticus 8:1, regarding the placement of the command to build the Tabernacle before the sin of the golden calf. Also regarding Lev. 8:1 (see the previous note), Nahmanides views this as presented in its proper place, contrary to the view given by Rashi.
 So too Rabbenu Bahya in Parashat Terumah.
seems one cannot say that Rashi’s approach ruled out altogether any original
intention to establish a center for worshipping the Lord, for the commandment
of pilgrimage requires the existence of such a place.
However, Rashi believed that from the
outset there was no place for a Tabernacle in the wilderness, but only a
 For a summation of the question, were commandments given after the fact, i.e. as a response to some event or situation, as this relates both to the command to build the Sanctuary and the laws of sacrifice, see N. Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot, II, Jerusalem 1976, 459-470.