Tag Archives: Tzitzit

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:

Introduction to Mishneh Torah – Part 1

The Rambam begins his monumental code of law with an introduction to explain the foundations of Judaism and the chain of the Torah’s transmission from one generation to the next.

Read the full text of the Introduction here. 

Summary: The Rambam explains that the Torah has two components: the Written and the Oral. At Mount Sinai, Moses received the Two Tablets which contained the Ten Commandments. From then on, over the period of forty years in the Wilderness, he composed the Torah as dictated to him by God. At the same time, God explained all the commandments and teachings of the Torah to Moses, and Moses then taught them to the nation. The Written Torah itself is just an encrypted, shorthand summary of God’s Law. To truly understand the Torah, one needs the Oral Tradition to extract its deeper meaning.

The Rambam cites Exodus 24:12 as proof: “And I will give you the Tablets of Stone, the Torah, and the mitzvah.” The phrasing seems redundant – does not the Torah contain all the mitzvot? What is meant here is that God gave Moses the Written Torah, but also explained it to him orally, hence “the mitzvah“, literally “the command”. The Rambam further cites Deuteronomy 13:1, where Moses tells the people: “Be careful to observe everything that I prescribe to you.” In other words, Moses gave over more than just a written text, but also a set of oral teachings that the nation must carefully adhere to.

Insight: To properly understand Jewish law, one must grasp the fact that there is both a Written and Oral Law. It is nearly impossible to understand the Torah without the Oral Tradition. For instance, the Torah states four different times to bind a symbol upon one’s arm and between one’s eyes (the mitzvah of tefillin), yet nowhere does it say what this symbol looks like, or how it is to be bound. Similarly, the Torah states multiple times to tie fringes onto the corners of one’s clothes, but does not explain how these fringes must be tied or what exactly they should look like. Such information comes from the oral teachings, as transmitted by the Prophets and Sages over the millennia. In the coming passages, the Rambam will carefully lay out the chain of transmission, and the exact figures that passed on the Torah over the generations.