Shavuot: Kedushat Levi: Needing Torah
The Talmudic saying that the patriarchs possessed the knowledge of the Torah in order to fulfill its commandments before the Torah was given needs understanding. It may be explained as follows:
It is known that just as there are 248 limbs and 365 sinews in the corporeal human body, so, too, there are 248 spiritual limbs and 365 spiritual sinews of the soul. And just as there can be no vitality in the corporeal limbs without food and drink, so too there is no vitality in the spiritual limbs other than the fulfillment of the Torah commandments.
Now, the Torah, God, and Israel are all a unity (Zohar I 24a). Thus the souls of Israel are derived from the identical source as the Torah, and therefore the life force of the souls depends upon the fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments.
This, however, may lead one to wonder: Why did Israel need the giving of the Torah and the study thereof in order to know how to fulfill God’s mitzvot? Would they not have fulfilled the Torah automatically? Inasmuch as the Torah is the principal life force of the soul, the very substance of the soul ought to be attracted to Torah and Mitzvot. And just as there is no need to teach the corporeal limbs to eat and drink and to fulfill other physical needs of the body, because on it depends the body’s basic vitality to which it is devoted by nature, likewise there should be no necessity to educate the soul in Torah and mitzvot, which constitute the root of its vitality.
The explanation of this is, however, simple. Truly speaking, if not for the fact that the soul is enclosed in a corporeal body, there would be no need for it. But the soul is garbed in a body, and this corporeal enclosure obscures and covers the soul; therefore the need for the giving and the studying of the Torah.
Therefore the patriarchs, who attained a state where they are divested of corporeality, so that the bodies did not cover the souls, had indeed possessed the power to know and fulfill the Torah out on their own. This was achieved before the Torah was actually revealed, since, as said, the soul without the interference of the corporeal body is naturally drawn to Torah and mitzvot. (Kedushat Levi, Likkutim ita b’Midrash)