Lessons for Wednesday 20th of Kislev 5776

See The Mitzvah

Negative Commandment 16 (Digest)
Inciting Another Jew to Worship Idols

“And no more such wickedness shall be done amongst you”—Deuteronomy 13:12.

It is forbidden to incite another to worship idols.

המצווה הט”ז האזהרה שהזהרנו מלהסית, היינו שיקרא אחד מישראל לעבוד עבודה זרה, וזהו הנקרא: מסית, כמו שביארנו לעיל.
והלאו על זה הוא אמרו יתעלה במסית: “ולא יוספו לעשות כדבר הרע הזה בקרבך” (שם); העובר על זה, והוא המפתה אדם מישראל – חייב סקילה.

כמו שאמר הכתוב: “כי הרג תהרגנו” (שם שם, י). והאדם שהמסית רצה שיתפתה לו – הוא אשר ראוי שיהרגנו, כמו שבאר יתעלה ואמר: “ידך תהיה בו בראשונה להמיתו” (שם).

ולשון ספרי:

“מצווה ביד המוסת להרגו”.

וכבר נתבארו דיני מצווה זו בפרק ז’ מסנהדרין.

Negative Commandment 17 (Digest)
Loving an Inciter

“Do not be drawn to him”—Deuteronomy 13:9.

The person who is the target of incitement to idol worship is not allowed to harbor any love…

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Day #3

Rules 4,5,6,7,8,9.

Principle 4

And keep My covenant

We do not include “encompassing” directives in the count. E.g. “And keep My covenant” (Exodus 12:5), or “Concerning all that I have said to you, you shall beware…” (ibid. 22:30), or “And you shall be a holy people to Me” (ibid. 23:23).

We are not counting Psukim that don’t instruct us regarding a specific action, but regarding the imperative to observe all of the Torah’s commandments, are not included in the 613

Principle 5  

The reason for a mitzvah is not counted on its own.

At times, the Torah tells us the reason for a command in language that could be understood as an independent precept—when in fact it is simply the rationale behind the words that precede it.

For example, “He shall not leave the Sanctuary, and he shall not desecrate the holy things of his G‑d” (Leviticus 21:12). Not desecrating the holy is not a commandment on its own, rather it is the reason why the Kohen may not leave the sanctuary. Or, “Her first husband, who had sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife…and you shall not bring sin to the land” (Deuteronomy 24:4). Here, too, “bringing sin to the land” is not an independent prohibition, but the reason why one may not remarry his divorced wife if she has remarried in the interim

Principle 6 

A mitzvah that has both negative and positive components is counted as two—one Positive Commandment and one Negative Commandment.

E.g. we are commanded to rest on Shabbat and desist from work on the Shabbat. We are commanded to “afflict” ourselves on Yom Kippur and we are commanded not to eat on this holy day. Though a transgression of one is also a transgression of the other – if you eat on Yom Kippur you have not afflicted yourself; if you work on Shabbat you have not rested – nevertheless these are considered two independent mitzvot.

Principle 7

Don’t Count every scenario mentioned as a separate Mitzvah

The different applications of a mitzvah are not individually counted.

E.g. one who inadvertently defiles the Temple or holy foods is required to bring a sin offering (Leviticus 5). If his financial situation allows, he is to bring a sheep or she-goat; otherwise he brings two birds; and if he is completely impoverished, he brings a flour offering. All this, however, is counted as one mitzvah—the mitzvah of bringing a sin offering when this particular offense is committed—although the execution of the mitzvah varies depending on the situation.

Principle 8

לא vs. לא

Do not count a negative statement amongst the prohibitions.

The Hebrew word “lo” can mean both “do not” and “shall not”; and only the “do not”s are counted as prohibitions. The only way to discern between the two is by studying the context of the word.

Examples: “She shall not go free as the slaves go free” (Exodus 21:7). This verse should not be construes as a prohibition, it is simply telling us that the circumstances that mandate the emancipation of a Canaanite slave do not apply to a Hebrew maidservant. Certainly, however, if the owner wishes to free her, he may do so.

Or, “So he shall not to be like Korach and his company” (Numbers 17:5). This is not a prohibition, rather a warning that anyone who dares contest the priesthood of Aaron’s descendents will meet the same fate as Korach and his cohorts.

Principle 9

Do not count the number of times a commandment is mentioned in the Torah, only the act which is prohibited or commanded.

Certain commandments are repeated in the Torah numerous times. For example, the commandment to rest on Shabbat is mentioned twelve times and the prohibition against consuming blood is repeated no less than seven times. Nevertheless, when counting the 613 mitzvot, we only count a prohibited or prescribed act once.

(The exception to this rule is those instances where the Sages have deduced that the repetition of a particular commandment is intended to prohibit or instruct us regarding a different act. In such a case, the [seemingly] repetitive verse is counted as a separate mitzvah—for it is in fact instructing us regarding something different than the first verse.)

It should be noted that though we count the prohibited acts, and not the amount of times mentioned, we only count prohibited acts individually specified in the Torah. At times, the Torah will issue a prohibition employing general terminology, for this prohibition includes multiple acts. For example, “You shall not eat over the blood” (Leviticus 19:26). This prohibition teaches us not to eat sacrificial flesh before the blood is sprinkled on the altar, not to eat from any animal before its soul (contained in its blood) has fully departed, that the members of a court may not eat on the day that they implement a capital verdict, and more. Though all these are biblically forbidden, none are counted as part of the 613—as none of them are mentioned specifically in the Torah.

Day #2

The first 3 (of 14) rules for counting the 613 Mitzvot

Principle 1

Do not count Rabbinic Commandments in this list. 

(E.g. lighting Chanukah candles or reciting the Hallel.)

“were given to Moses at Sinai”

Principle 2

Do not include laws which are derived from one of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Exegesis.

Principle 3

Do not count mitzvot which are not binding on all generations.

Not binding on all generations

Lesson #1 23 Kislev 5775 / December 15, 2014


The Rambam’s rules for counting 613 Mitzvos.


counting home

The Talmud (end of Tractate Makkot) tells us that there are 613 biblical precepts—248 of which are “positive commandments,” i.e., mitzvot that require an action on our part, and 365 “negative commandments,” i.e., prohibitions. The 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 limbs in the human body, each limb, as it were, demanding the observance of one commandment. The 365 negative commandments correspond to the 365 days of the solar year, each day enjoining us not to transgress a certain prohibition.

While the Talmud gives us these precise numbers, it does not list the 248 positive commandments or the 365 negative ones. Thus, numerous “mitzvah counters” have arisen throughout the generations – many who preceded Maimonides – each one attempting to provide a comprehensive listing of the mitzvot, each one’s list differing slightly from all others’.

Maimonides prefaces his Sefer Hamitzvot with fourteen guiding principles that allow us to determine which Torah precepts are included in the count, and which are not. He then references these principles throughout the work, and thus arrives at precisely 248 positive commandments and 365 negative ones.

Maimonides explains in his introduction that the objective of the Sefer Hamitzvot is not to explain or elaborate upon the commandments. In an instance where he does speak about the details of a particular mitzvah, the intention is simply to identify which mitzvah he is referring to. The only goal of this work is to enumerate the biblical commandments and to provide explanation as to why certain precepts are counted while others are not.

The following are the fourteen principles :

  1. Do not count Rabbinic Commandments in this list.
  2. Do not include laws which are derived from one of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Exegesis.
  3. Do not count mitzvot which are not binding on all generations.
  4. We do not include “encompassing” directives in the count.
  5. The reason for a mitzvah is not counted on its own.
  6. A mitzvah that has both negative and positive components is counted as two.
  7. The different applications of a mitzvah are not individually counted.
  8. Do not count a negative statement amongst the prohibitions.
  9. Do not count the number of times a commandment is mentioned in the Torah, only the act which is prohibited or commanded.
  10. Do not count a preparatory act as an independent mitzvah.
  11. If a mitzvah is comprised of a number of elements, do not count them separately.
  12. When commanded to do a certain action, do not count each part of the action separately.
  13. We do not count the amount of days a mitzvah is performed.
  14. We do not count the punishment administered for each transgression.

The Mitzvah of Shmitah

Lessons for Thursday, 6 Nissan, 5772

Positive Commandment 13 (Digest)

The Arm Tefillin

“And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm”—Deuteronomy 6:8.

Men are obligated to wrap tefillin on their arms.

המצווה הי”ג

הציווי שנצטווינו במעשה תפילין של יד. והוא אמרו יתעלה:”וקשרתם לאות על ידך” (שם); וגם הציווי במצווה זו נכפל ארבע פעמים. והראיה שתפילין של ראש ושל יד שתי מצוות – הוא אמרם בגמרא מנחות על דרך התמה על מי שסובר, שתפילין של ראש ושל יד לא תונח אחת מהן בלי האחרת, אלא [יונחו רק] כשיהיו שתיהן בנמצא, וזה לשונם:

“מאן דלית לה שתי מצוות, חדא מצווה לא לעבד?!”
כלומר: מי שאי אפשר לו לעשות שתי מצוות לא יעשה [לפחות] אחת?! לא, אלא יעשה את המצווה שבידו, ולפיכך יניח איזו מהן שבנמצא.

הנה נתבאר לך, שקראו לתפילין של יד ושל ראש שתי מצוות. ושתי מצוות אלו אין הנשים חייבות בהן, שהרי אמר יתעלה בטעם חיובן: “למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך” (שמות יג, ט) – ונשים אינן חייבות בתלמוד תורה, וכך ביארו במכילתא.
וכבר נתבארנו כל דיני שתי המצוות האלה בפ”ד ממנחות.

Lessons for Wednesday, 5 Nissan, 5772

Positive Commandment 26 (Digest)

 The Priestly Blessing

“Thus you shall bless the Children of Israel…”—Numbers 6:23.

The Kohanim, the priestly descendants of Aaron, are commanded to bless the Children of Israel every day.

המצווה הכ”ו

הציווי שנצטוו הכהנים לברך את ישראל בכל יום. והוא אמרו יתעלה: “כה תברכו את בני ישראל אמור להם” (במדבר ו, כג).
וכבר נתבארנו דיני מצווה זו בפרק האחרון ממגילה ומתענית ובפרק ז’ ממסכת סוטה.

Positive Commandment 12 (Digest)

The Head Tefillin

“And they shall be for symbols between your eyes”—Deuteronomy 6:8.

Men are obligated to don tefillin on their heads.

המצווה הי”ב

הציווי שנצטווינו במעשה תפילין של ראש. והוא אמרו יתעלה: “והיו לטטפת בין עיניך” (שם ו, ח). וכבר נכפל הציווי זו ארבע פעמים

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