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Thought for the Day: 613, 11, 6, 3, 2, 1 Guiding Principles

One of the arguments that the Ramban made in his famous debate, known as The Disputation of Barcelona, is that it is unconscionable to believe that the Creator would make a public contract -- witnessed and unanimously ratified by the entire Jewish nation of something like three millions men, women, and children -- and then change the whole deal by whispering into the each of a solitary Jew, "Oh, by the way, I changed My Mind."  When I was coming to Orthodox Judaism I also noticed that HaShem gave one mitzvah to Adam, then (when that didn't work out so well) gave seven to Noah, then (when ... sigh... that also didn't work out so well) gave 613 to the Jewish People.  It seemed pretty unreasonable to me, therefore, to believe that HaShem would then drop that to one (or zero, depending on how you understand Christianity); basically just love their god and you are good to go.

Be that as it may, there seems to be a fly in that ointment place there by Chazal.  Chazal tell us (Makkos 24a) begin by explaining how we know we have 613 mitzvos: תורה ציווה לנו משה --   611 (don't read תורה, rather תור''ה, i.e., the numerical value, which is 611) were commanded to us by (HaShem and transmitted to us by) Moshe, plus two that we heard directly from the Creator Himself; that 613.  So far, so good.  Then Dovid HaMelech came and stood them (the Torah/Mitzvos) on 11.  (Umm...)  The Yeshaya came and stood them on 6. (Wait... what's going on?)  Then Micha came and stood them on 3.  (Please stop...) Then Yeshaya has second thoughts and stood them on 2.  (Ok, ok... but we still have two, right?)  Then Amos and/or Chabakkuk (disagreement in the gemara) came and stood them on 1/One/Achas/Uno.  And what's that one?  "Just live faithfully."  Starting to sound, chas v'shalom, a lot like that religion.

Let's regroup, shall we?  In all those epochs, halacha was getting more detailed, not less.  Moreover, there are several lists detailing the 613 mitzvos (Rambam, Ramban,  and Sefer HaChinuch just to name the more famous ones).  These sages who live more than 1000 years after the prophets quoted above and, more to the point, after Chazal.  Clearly they understood that Chazal differently than it's surface appearance.

So here's a rule I've formulated: Just because Christianity says something, it's not necessarily wrong.  (As opposed to tree lugging hiberals and the Reform Jewish Religion, which pretty much are always wrong...)  However, the ideas may be (and usually are) badly distorted.  Upon careful reading of this gemara, you will find that Chazal give several examples of great people who upheld this or that principle.  For example, there is R' Yishmael bar R' Yossi, was a kohein and judge.  A farmer who always give his t'ruma to R' Yishmael bar R' Yossi on Fridays, came to town for his own court hearing one Thursday (court hearings were always on Mondays and Thursdays) and brought his t'ruma for R' Yishmael bar R' Yossi.  R' Yishmael bar R' Yossi prompted removed himself from hearing the farmers case.  Receiving t'ruma from the farmer was not a problem; the issue was receiving it one day earlier than usual.  The gemara brings that as an example of refraining from bribery.

Now, we all know that example is meant as the extreme stringencies taken my great people.  This is never seen as normative halacha.  Yet the gemara here brings this example (and others) as exemplification of what the prophet meant.  In truth, look at the Targum Yonason on the so called "10 Commandments" (not the movie, but the real deal), and you will see that "Thou shalt not steal" is translated to mean, "you shall have no business nor personal dealing with anyone who steals".

That means to say that the Targum Yonason is telling you the minimal Torah obligation at the time the Torah was given.  That extraordinary level of stringency was found in each and every one of the 613 mitzvos when originally given.  Then came Dovid HaMelech and saw that people were not able to accomplish that, so he gave us 11 that required that level of stringency על פי דין/according to the strict letter of the law, while the rest -- though laudable goals for great people -- had a much more relaxed level of what was considered על פי דין.  Then came Yeshaya, then Micha, then Yeshaya again, then Chabakkuk and Amos; each in their generation, each seeing where people needed to relax their standards to the way the mitzvah/law was literally and where they needed על פי דין to keep stringencies.

Of course we have a myriad of mitzvos and halachos to keep; and it is enough to live my the Mishna Brura/Shulchan Aruch.  Even that is daunting, but we can see the line and that gives us support.  There is one and only one area that requires constant, constant improvement: וצדיק באמונתו יחיה/The צדיק/righteous will live by his אמונה/faith.  The rest is commentary, go out a live it.


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