11 November 2015

"Not Just 613"

30 Marcheshvan 5776
Rosh Chodesh Aleph

Excerpt from the book The 6 Constant Mitzvos by Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz and Rabbi Shai Markowitz..

Not Just 613

The purpose of the Torah's 613 commandments is to enable the Jew to become a tzelem elokim, an image of God, to the fullest possible degree. By doing God's will, man comes closer to Him, and by refraining from anything that God forbids, man prevents himself from being swept away from his goal. The 248 positive commandments corrrespond to the organs of the body, so that by performing all the commandments, the Jew refines every organ, until body and soul are united in spiritual perfection.

However, the Vilna Gaon, quoted by his brother (Maalos HaTorah), taught that the number 613 cannot mean that those are the only acts that the Torah either requires or forbids. From the beginning of the Torah until Parashah Bo - a total of sixty-one chapters - there are only three commandments. In addition, there are many other chapters that contain no commandments. It is illogical to say that so much of the Torah is without any expression of God's will.

Rather, the Gaon explains, the 613 commandments are like the roots of a tree. From the roots grows the trunk, from which grow branches, twigs, leaves and fruits. So, too, every word of the Torah is an expression of God's will, so that "everyone with a discerning eye and an understanding heart" can obey God's will constantly at every moment. Thus, every activity in life should be an emanation of God's will, even though it is not technically one of the 613 commandments.

This concept illuminates a teaching of the Sages: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the people acted on the letter of the law, and did not do more than the law requires (Bava Metzia 30b). That Talmudic teaching appears in the context of many Scriptural implications and stories of great people who exhibited personal and monetary kindness beyond the strict letter of the law, even though they were not halachically required to do so. But if there was no such requirement, and if people were indeed scrupulous in not disobeying the law, why were the people of Jerusalem held liable? In light of the Gaon's explanation, we can understand it very well. The 613 commandments are not all that the Torah teaches and not all that God expects of us. There is much more.

To be continued, iy"H...