Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Volume 2: Number 1
Introduction to the Second Volume
I began this series on February 12, 2003 with an introduction to the Jewish calendar. It seems that the past two years have flown by and we have covered an amazing amount of Halacha, Jewish Law, since that time.
When I went on my Sabbatical this year, and took a break from my weekly writing, I wondered what I would do to continue this very successful venture. We had, together covered most of the major topics of Jewish Law and many people who are on the list have sent me E-mails about how much they appreciate the lessons. What could I do to follow up on what we have learned and to add to what has been taught over the last two years.
Whenever I have a question like that, I always consult my wife, Michelle, who is not only a big fan, but also well-respected Jewish Educator. She suggested that I concentrate on one Sage, and expand those teachings with the point of view of Conservative (Masorti) Judaism. This is a new approach for me, as commentator on a text. I have, of course taught texts for many years and as I thought about her suggestion, I realized that in teaching texts I had, in fact, become a commentator on that text. I teach my students and the members of my congregation that every time someone writes a D’var Torah, a personal understanding of the weekly Torah portion, they are, in fact, participating in the longest running classroom discussion in the history of the world. So I set my mind to becoming a commentator on the works of some important Sage in Judaism.
But who? There are so many to choose from in Jewish History. There are the Bible commentators, the Sages of the Talmud, the medieval commentators, and those who have written in Modern times. I looked at book after book on my shelves looking for someone to try and explain their words in terms of Tradition and Change, the philosophy of our movement.
I finally saw a small volume I received many years ago, from Feldheim Publishers called, “The Concise Book of Mitzvoth, The Commandments Which Can Be Observed Today by the Chafetz Chaim. As every Bar Mitzvah student knows, there are 613 Mitzvot in Judaism. 248 Positive Commandments and 365 Negative Commandments. These Mitzvot are woven into the knots on our Tallit. The Hebrew word for “fringes” is “Tzitzit” which in Gematria (where each Hebrew Letter has a numerical equivalent) equals 600 and if you add the five knots and eight strings on the Tzitzit, you get 613. Thus we wrap ourselves in the Mitzvot when we wrap ourselves in our Tallit.
The book lists 77 Positive Mitzvot and 194 Negative Mitzvot that are in effect today. (It also notes another 26 Mitzvot that apply today only in the Land of Israel) Each one is listed with its source and a short comment from the Chafetz Chaim.
All of Judaism is based upon the Mitzvot of the Torah so this is an excellent opportunity to see the roots of modern Judaism and how it grew out of our ancient text. We will also have a chance to see how it affects our lives today. If you wish, you can order the book from Feldheim Press through their catalogue or through their website. It is not necessary to buy the book; I will quote the book directly and comment on its content.
Next Week: Introduction 2: Who is the Chafetz Chaim?