Learn Emunah:
Section One, Lesson Twelve:
The Importance of Mitzvot


By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © December 11, 2018

11. I believe with perfect emunah
that the Creator, blessed be His Name,
rewards those who keep His commandments,
and punishes those who transgress them.

Like many Hebrew words, mitzvah conveys a few different ideas. Essentially a mitzvah is a command to perform a positive action. Mitzvot is the plural form. The word is used in the Torah about 300 times with various implications depending on the context. When we do what is demanded of us by G-d we are performing miztvot.

Although there are different numbering systems among the sages for the biblical mitzvot, most Jews accept Rambam's count of 613 as determined in his Sefer Hamitzvot. The 613 Miztvot are listed below.

Another common way the word mitzvah is used is in connection with good deeds. For example, someone has a flat tire and you stop to assist them. This is a mitzvah. While the 613 commandments do not say to stop and fix flats, the idea of caring for and assisting others in need is certainly incumbant on observant people as part of our commitment to tikun olam, to repairing whatever is broken in our world. Since the purpose of the mitzvot are to encourge love and compassion as well as obediance to G-d, good deeds are certainly incumbant mitzvot. As Prophet Micah says in chapter 6 of his book:

“My people, Remember what Balak king of Moab Plotted against you, And how Balaam son of Beor Responded to him. [Recall your passage] From Shittim to Gilgal— And you will recognize The gracious acts of the LORD.”

With what shall I approach the LORD, Do homage to God on high? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old?

Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, With myriads of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for my sins?

“He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God;
As discussed in the previous lesson, the Torah was given to free and enable us to achieve our highest potentials, not to enslave us. Mitzvot offer practical guidelines and opportunites that assist us in this goal. Hence we have the following from Shabbat 31a:5-9:
It happened again that a gentile came before Shammai and said: “Convert me on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” He pushed him away with the yardstick in his hand. He came before Hillel. He converted him. He said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend – this is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary. Go learn.”

To Rabbi Hillel one learns Torah in order to practice mitzvot, kindness and consideration, in the service of HaShem, for the purposes of making this world a more hospitable place. In the ancient world hospitality was of primary importance. The Hammurabi code, enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi (circa 1754 BCE) was considered the foundation stone of civilized individual and community behaviour. Hospitailty emerges from a righteous person's heart realizing that, 'there but for the mercy of HaShem go I'.

Observance of the mitzvot, once learned, arises from human empathy and loving kindness. Heartfelt observance is sparked by emunah and bitachon. Bitachon is a powerful sense of optimism and confidence in HaShem. It arises not from reason or experience, but from emunah. It is emunah in HaShem's compassion and love that motivates attachmentment to His Will and to the performance of good deeds.

Those who cling strigently to the rules of observance, sometimes hoping to appear "frumer-than-thou," as well as those who condemnn others for their apparent lack of observance, are themselves lacking in Torah understanding. G-d forbid we should push people away from HaShem by unwise actions and words! If HaShem remembers that we are but clay how much moreso should we (Tehillim 103:14)? By focussing on strigencies with a critical mindset one harms both themselves and others:

[A gentile] came to Hillel and said, "Patient Hillel, blessings on your head, for you brought me under the wings of the divine presence." One day the converts met in one place. They said: "Shammai’s severity sought to drive us from the world. Hillel’s patience brought us under the wings of the Divine Presence."
By appearance Rabbis Shamai and Hillel differed sharply in their interpretations and application of Torah. This however is only in appearance. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explained: The name "Moshe" stands for Machloket Shammai v'Hillel - as revealed in the dispute of the schools of Shammai and Hillel.

Torah is eternal and unchangeable. It far exceeds human comprehension and yet this truth is what HaShem has given to the Jewish people to guide us. Because of the limitations of the human mind HaShem revels different levels of understanding according to our individual and collective levels of realization. We refer to these as Pardes, rabbinic exegesis. Each level rests upon those "below" it and are always harmonious with Torah. The term pardes is an acronym and hence is sometimes spelled as PaRDeS, formed from the same initials of the following four approaches: These are as follows:

In the Written Torah HaShem reveals, in language the avarage person can understand, the Path of Devekut, however much remains unclear. The Oral Torah examines and expands upon the Written Torah and defines its proper application. It is in part the duty of the rabbis to present this information in ways the people can understand and utilize for their individual and collective good.

Hence, what Rabbi Shammai taught was completely true, however it was too difficult for most people to put into practice or even comprehend. His teachings sought to transport people to instant perfection. That was too much for most people. As stated above, "Shammai’s severity sought to drive us from the world."

What Hillel taught was equally correct, but his approach was more applicable to the masses of our people. We discussed this earlier: Hatorah lo bashamayim hi! "The Torah is not in heaven."

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will climb to heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and let us hear it so that we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

As a general statement Judaism has adopted the Way of House Hillel. In the Olam Haba, the World to Come, once we have been purified and the Torah has been "written on our hearts" we will merit the Way of House Shammai. Until then, "Don't allow the perfect to defeat the good." In this age each of us do what we can to honor the Holy One and He, in His mercy, accepts our sincere offerings.

We need to accept our limitations. It is preferable to proceed gradually, one step at a time. Those who rush for perfection inevitably tire and fail to complete the desired course. Hence Rebbe Nachman of Breslov gives the following instruction:

Don't follow excessive stringencies in your practice of the Torah. "God does not rule over His creatures with tyranny" ( Avodah Zarah 3a) - "The Torah was not given to ministering angels" ( Berachot 25b). Our rabbis have taught that it is proper for each person to choose for himself one mitzvah to observe with particular care in all its fine details (Shabbat 118b). Yet even with your chosen mitzvah, you should not be excessively strict to the point of folly. Don't let it make you depressed. Simply try to keep the mitzvah carefully in all its finer points, but without excessive punctiliousness.

As for the other mitzvot, simply follow the essential laws without adding extra stringencies. If only we could keep all the mitzvot of the Torah according to the simple interpretation of the law without seeking to go beyond it!

There is no need to look for extra stringencies: this is foolish and confusing. The essence of serving God is simplicity and sincerity. Pray much, study much Torah and carry out many good deeds without seeking out or inventing unnecessary restrictions. Simply follow the path of our forefathers. "The Torah was not given to ministering angels."

There is nothing that you absolutely must do or else. If you can, you can. But if you cannot: "God exempts a person under duress" ( Bava Kama 28b) (Sichot Haran #235).

The mitzvoth are vital!

Balance is also vital when observing them.

Following are the 613 mitzvot. They subdivide into many many more. These laws only apply to Jews, the House of Israel. For non-Jews HaShem has established The Seven Laws.

God

Torah

Signs and Symbols

Prayer and Blessings

Love and Brotherhood

The Poor and Unfortunate

Treatment of Gentiles

Marriage, Divorce and Family

Forbidden Sexual Relations

Times and Seasons

Dietary Laws

Business Practices

Employees, Servants and Slaves

Vows, Oaths and Swearing

The Sabbatical and Jubilee Years

The Court and Judicial Procedure

Injuries and Damages

Property and Property Rights

Criminal Laws

Punishment and Restitution

Prophecy

Idolatry, Idolaters and Idolatrous Practices

Agriculture and Animal Husbandry

Clothing

The Firstborn

Kohanim and Levites

T'rumah, Tithes and Taxes

The Temple, the Sanctuary and Sacred Objects

Sacrifices and Offerings

Ritual Purity and Impurity

Lepers and Leprosy

The King

Nazarites

Wars

"Blessed is the person you discipline, HaShem,
the one you teach from your Torah" - Tehillim 94:12

Points to Consider:

Go to Lesson Thirteen

Got Questions or Comments?

Let me know

Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good

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Go to Lesson Twelve

Got Questions or Comments?

Let me know

Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good

LearnEmunah.com

LE Home page
LE Offerings
LE Facebook
LE Free Course
LE Free Broadcasts
LE YouTube
Keruv Media


LE Being Jewish
LE Chassidus
LE HaMashiach
LE Derech Noahide
LE The Afterlife
LE Holy day Guides
Questions & Answers


Contact Rabbi Shlomo Nachman

Donations
Are Appreciated


Please Paypal Gifts To
Rabbi Shlomo Nachman
Social Media

My Facebook
Boycott Hatred of Jews!
Jewish Insights
Echoes From Shoah
America Stands
Kosher Kooking
AllHeart Tikun

                    
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind