The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 3 March 2018 / 16 Adar II 5778

The Seven Rabbinic Mitzvahs

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Library Library Library

“According to the teachings that they will teach you, and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do. You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left.” (Devarim 17:11)

The Torah empowers and charges the Rabbis with the responsibility to create “fences” to protect the Torah, and we are likewise charged with the obligation to follow their instructions. Accordingly, we find countless examples of Rabbinic decrees mentioned in the Talmud. Based on the above verse the Rabbis were given license to create Rabbinic mitzvot as well. These mitzvoth are: Hallel, Purim, Chanuka, washing the hands (before eating bread), lighting Shabbat candles, and saying blessings (such as when eating food, and more) — seven in total.

Adding these seven Rabbinic commandments to the six-hundred and thirteen Biblical commandments brings us to a total number of six-hundred and twenty, the numerical value of the Hebrew word “keter, which means “crown”. This teaches us that through fulfilling the mitzvot, both on a Biblical and Rabbinical level, the crown of Torah is placed on one’s head (see Baal HaTurim, Yitro 20:14).

We find in Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 13:16) that there are 613 letters corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the “Aseret HaDibrot — the“Ten Commandments,” from the opening phrase “I am the Lrd… (Anochi), up until the phrase “That is to your friend (asher le’rei’echa) — and with the additional seven Hebrew letters of asher le’rei’echa the total number is 620. The Midrash connects the seven extra letters to the seven days of Creation, which teaches us that the world was created in the merit of the Torah.

Rabbi Yehoshua Horowitz writes in Shnei Luchot HaBrit in the name of the Kadmonim (early Rabbis), that the 620 letters of the Ten Commandments (613 plus 7) represent the 613 Biblical commands together with the 7 Rabbinical ones. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of Tanya, explains that the 620 Biblical and Rabbinical commands that equal the numerical value of keter, crown, correspond to 620 pillars of light above, revealed through the Torah and the mitzvot.

Purim, one of the seven Rabbinic commandments, was instituted to commemorate the miraculous salvation of the Jewish People from total annihilation. This holiday includes four mitzvot: the reading of the Scroll of Esther, a festive meal in which many partake of wine or other alcoholic beverages, giving two gifts of food to another Jew and giving charity to at least two poor people.

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