Talmidav Shel Aharon
8-5768: Introduction to the Negative Mitzvot
December 10, 2007
On August 29, 2005, as the year 5764 was drawing to a close, I began a new volume of what we called then, “Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai. I had spent the previous two years commenting on different aspect of Jewish Law. I had just returned from my three month Sabbatical and was ready to start something new with this list. In those days I was posting a lesson and sending it by Email to those who has subscribed. In the past 28 months I have left my position at Temple Sinai of Hollywood, started my new position at the Temple of Aaron in St. Paul and changed the name from “Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai” to “Talmidav shel Aharon. I also started posting the lessons to a blog so that the older lessons could be archived. I want to again thank my son, Eitan, for his help in showing me how easy it is to write a weekly blog.
Taking advise from my wife, Michelle, I decided to begin to introduce my students to the work of the Hafetz Hayyim, (for his biography see HMS 2,2 5755) in particular, his list of commandments that could be followed in our day. We are all taught that there are 613 commandments that Jews are supposed to follow. 248 are positive commandments (a number, according to the Sages is equal to the bones in a human body) and the other 365 are negative commandments (a number, according to the Sages, equal to the number of days in a solar year). These are a lot of commandments that G-d has placed on our shoulders, but Rabbis, including the Hafetz Hayyim, understand that most of these commandments are not possible to perform in our day and age. Some of them were only possible to perform when the Temple of Jerusalem was in existence. Since it was destroyed in 70 CE, we no longer can observe these Mitzvot. Some of them relate only to the land of Israel, and if we do not live in the land of Israel, we are exempt from these Mitzvot.
The Hafetz Hayyim chose to comment only on the positive and negative commandments that are still in force for all of us who are still living in the lands of our dispersion. We have just completed the 77th positive commandment concerning Amalek and with it we have finished the positive commandments. It has taken us about 2 1/3 years to complete this task. I can only add that positive commandments are in effect as long as there is no danger to our life or limb. In times of danger to our health, we are commanded to skip the positive Mitzvot until such a time as the danger has passed, and then we pick up where we left off. Hanukah is a great time to contemplate this. When the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrian-Greeks, the set out to re-purify the Temple and begin to worship there as they did before they were forced into the hills. When the Temple was ready to be rededicated, the looked to see what holiday they could celebrate in the middle of the winter. According to the Book of Maccabees, the last holiday they had missed was Sukkot, a seven day holiday with an eighth day holiday at the end. The Maccabees then re-lit the candelabra and celebrated Sukkot for eight days. This may be the real origin of our eight-day festival of lights.
Women also find that they are exempt from Mitzvot, which are positive, and time bound. This was a nod by the ancient Sages to women who have responsibilities that are not always bound by a set time or schedule.
In the second part of his book on the Mitzvot, the Hafetz Hayyim will cover 194 negative commandments. As if often the case with law, it is far easier to say what one cannot do than to say what is permitted. Since the 613 commandments have far more negative than positive commandments, we should not be surprised to find that there are more negative commandments in effect than positive ones still in effect. We should also note that there are far fewer exemptions from the negative Mitzvot than the positive ones. If G-d tells us that there are some things that we cannot do, than we just don’t do them. I should also note that because there are so many negative commandments still in effect, it is also not permitted to make up more of them. There are already enough things we are not allowed to do, we will be eventually called to account for the things we were permitted to do and yet forbid ourselves from doing it. This is to prevent false acts of piety and fanaticism. I can’t say that this is a perfect system, but it is the one we are working will.
Just a note, when I checked the archives, I noted that HMS 2.1 is dated 5755. That is a typographical error. It should read 5765. I will later change the blog archives to correct that error.
As always, if you know of someone who wants to read the lessons, feel free to send them the link to this blog or to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be sent a reminder when new lessons are posted.
As always, your comments are welcome and will be added to the end of the lesson by the end of the week.
Thank you for your commitment to Jewish LearningRabbi K.