Tag Archives: Jewish King

Judges, Courts, and Wars (P#171-193)

Read the full text here. 

A real half-shekel coin from the Second Temple era unearthed in Jerusalem.

Summary: Mitzvah #171 is to donate a yearly half-shekel to the Temple. Then we have the mitzvah of listening to legitimate prophets (172), appointing a king (173), listening to the Sanhedrin (174), and for the Sanhedrin to operate by majority rule (175). While the Sanhedrin was the “supreme court” in Jerusalem, every Jewish community is required to appoint local judges and officers (176), and every judge must treat litigants equally (177). Then come three more mitzvot regarding courts: to go and testify if one is a valid witness (178), to cross-examine witnesses thoroughly so that justice can be served properly (179), and to punish false witnesses (180). The next mitzvah is the eglah arufa, followed by establishing the six “cities of refuge”.  Related to the latter is establishing cities for the Levites to dwell in (183). Mitzvah #184 is to construct safety rails on rooftops so that none should fall and get injured. The next set is all about exterminating idolatry: destroying false idols (185), destroying heretical cities that have fallen to idolatry (186), to destroy the sinful Canaanites nations (187), as well as Amalek, the arch-enemy of Israel (188). There is a separate mitzvah to remember all the evil that Amalek has done to Israel (189). The last of the set involves various commands related to war. First is to follow the appropriate rules associated with a war that is voluntary (190), ie. a war required for political reasons and not a holy war commanded by God. Then comes the mitzvah to anoint and appoint a kohen to lead the Jewish army into battle and inspire them to fight valiantly (the kohen himself does not battle, since kohanim cannot be defiled by death). Mitzvot #192 and 193 ensure cleanliness in the military camp by designating a place to serve as a latrine and for each soldier to have a shovel to bury their waste.

Insight: Currently, in the absence of a Sanhedrin, a number of the mitzvot above are unable to be fulfilled. Then there is a mitzvah that has already been fulfilled for good and can never be fulfilled again: destroying the seven Canaanite nations. Most of this work was done by Joshua and the Israelites upon their entry into the Holy Land following the Exodus and the forty-year period in the Wilderness. The Canaanite nations persisted for some time afterwards, but have since disappeared entirely from the face of the Earth. It is important to note that the Canaanites were not innocent victims. They had become grotesquely sinful, and God specifically waited until their sin was great enough to justify their destruction (see Genesis 15:16). The nation of Amalek, too, no longer exists. However, the spirit of Amalek continues to infect the world, and rears its ugly head at various times and places in history.

Positive Mitzvot #1-20

The Rambam begins Sefer HaMitzvot, the “Book of Commandments”, with a list of the 248 positive (“to do”) mitzvot in the Torah. For each, he provides an exact source to where that mitzvah is given in the Torah. After this list is complete, he will go into the 365 negative (“not to do”) mitzvot in the Torah. Altogether, the Torah contains 613 commandments.

Read the full text of the Positive Mitzvot here. 

Summary: The first mitzvah of Judaism is to know that there is a God. The second mitzvah is to know that God is One. The third mitzvah is to love God. The fourth mitzvah is to fear God. The fifth mitzvah is to pray to God. The sixth mitzvah is to “cleave” to God, and seek to grow ever-closer to Him. The seventh is to swear only in the name of God. The eighth is to walk in God’s ways – “just as God is compassionate, you be compassionate; just as God is merciful, you be merciful”, etc. The ninth is to sanctify God’s Name (kiddush Hashem) – to be a model citizen so that people see what a truly God-serving person is, and will be inspired to draw closer to God as well. The tenth mitzvah is to recite Shema Israel twice a day, morning and night. The eleventh mitzvah is to learn and teach Torah. The twelfth and thirteenth mitzvahs are to put on tefillin on the head and arm (each is a separate mitzvah!) The fourteenth is to wear tzitzit fringes on the corners of one’s clothes. The fifteenth is to affix a mezuzah on the doorposts. The sixteenth is the mitzvah of Hak’hel where, in ancient times, the entire nation would gather in Jerusalem every seventh year to hear a public reading of the Torah. The seventeenth mitzvah is for each Jew to write a Torah for himself. Since it is difficult to write an entire Torah, and requires much training, this mitzvah can be fulfilled by contributing a donation towards the production of a Torah scroll, or even helping to ink in a single letter. The eighteenth is for a king of Israel to write an additional Torah scroll for himself, to ensure he will abide by it when he rules. The nineteenth is to recite birkat hamazon, the “grace after meals”, to thank God for one’s food. The twentieth is to build (or rebuild, or contribute to the building of) the Temple in Jerusalem.

Insight: The 248 positive mitzvot of the Torah correspond to the 248 evarim, or parts of the human body. (Some list these 248 as all the bones and major joints of the body, while others enumerate them as the 206 bones in an adult human body, plus 42 major organs.) Meanwhile, the 365 negative commandments correspond to the 365 major gidim, or nerves, of the body. They also correspond to the 365 days of the solar year. One who keeps all 613 commandments therefore keeps their entire body spiritually healthy. For those who like gematria (Jewish numerology), the value of “Moshe Rabbeinu” (משה רבינו) is 613, since Moses is the one that brought us the 613 commandments from God!

For a summary of the first 20 mitzvot, with further explanation, see the following short video: