The Complete Body Of Mitzvos
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
ROSH CHODESH ADAR:
This Shabbos is also the first day of Adar, the second day of Rosh Chodesh.
As the Talmud invites, "When Adar arrives, simchah is increased" (Ta'anis
29a), for, as Rashi explains, days of miracles for the Jewish people begin,
with Purim only two weeks away, and Pesach coming fast on its heels.
The symbol of the month of Adar is the fish, and it corresponds to Yosef
HaTzaddik, who is compared to a fish (for good reasons; Brochos 20a). In
the Sefiros, the one that corresponds to Yosef is called "Yesod"
(Foundation), which the Zohar calls "Goel," or, "Redeemer."
Everything about Yosef leads to redemption. Even the age he died at, says
the Arizal -- 110 years -- is equal in gematria to the word "neis"
(nun-samech), for he was one for whom miracles constantly happened, and, in
whose merit miracles will happen for us in the future as well, b"H.
One of the most important aspects of the Purim-miracle was the way events
got progressively worse for the Jewish people every day that Haman was in
power. And, at the very moment that everything should have dovetailed in
the destruction of the Jewish people, at the moment that seemed the least
hopeful, all of sudden, events and the fortune of the Jewish people
reversed itself with lightning speed.
Very little brings as much simchah as a quick reversal of bad fortune to
May we merit this Adar to witness ourselves such a reversal of fortune, and
the simchah that accompanies it. May we live to see the glory of Torah
restored, and its light shining to and from every aspect of creation, a
time of which it is said, "On that day, it will be that G-d is One and His
Name One" (Zechariah 14:9).
These are the judgments that you should place before them. (Shemos 21:1)
There are the opening words of this week's parshah, and what follows is the
source of much discussion in the Talmud, but not at most Shabbos tables. I
mean, who talks about slaves that much in this day and age? Though people
do complain about being "worked to the bone," in the Western world, that is
hardly called "slavery."
One might think, therefore, that there is not much relevance to these
mitzvos today, that they once applied when slavery was still common
practice, but not today when slavery, for the most part, has been
abolished. That is why this may be as good a place as any to launch into a
discussion about the "TaRYaG Mitzvos" (613 Mitzvos), from a more esoteric
point of view.
The Zohar says:
All the mitzvos of the Torah unify in the "Holy Elevated King," some in the
"head" of the King, some in the "body" of the King, some in the "hands" of
the King, and some in the "legs." (Zohar, Yisro 85b)
All the mitzvos of the Torah are "limbs" in the "Upper Mystery," and when
they are unified like one then they ascend together with sublime oneness. A
The collective body of 613 Mitzvos are the entire basis of the upper and
lower mysteries; all of them are "portions" and "limbs" through which are
revealed the secret of Faith. One who does not pay attention to them and
investigate the mysteries of the mitzvos of the Torah cannot know or see
how he is bringing rectification to the limbs in the sublime Above; all the
limbs of the "body" are rectified through the mysteries of the mitzvos of
the Torah. (Zohar, Terumah 165b)
There are many similar statements in the Zohar, and other sources. The
entire body of 613 Mitzvos is exactly that -- one complete body, completely
inter-connected and inter-dependent, just like the limbs on our bodies.
This is not merely a metaphor, as the Arizal explains:
A Furthermore, all 613 mitzvos divide into 613 "limbs" and "tendons" of
Adam HaRishon, and are called "613 Large Roots." Each limb consists of
specific mitzvos, for example, every Left Shoulder-Limb contains eleven
Positive Mitzvos and fifteen Negative Mitzvos (for a total of 26 -- the
numerical value of G-d's Four-Letter Ineffable Name). Any individual from
this shoulder must fulfill these mitzvos more so than other mitzvos from
the 613 mitzvos. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 11)
In other words, every physical limb of a human being has a spiritual
counterpart in the Sefiros. In this way, man can directly interact with
creation, guiding it with his actions, words, and thoughts, because, each
is spiritually attached to the World Above.
In fact, perhaps this is the lesson of "inter-active" videos and computer
programs today. For, as the rabbis teach us, all that happens in the
physical world does so to reveal to us what we can't see, but need to
understand, about the spiritual world.
Until recently, videos were one-sided. That is, the producer produced it,
and what you got was what you saw; you had very little input in the turn of
events once the project was complete. All you could be was a captive
audience, no matter what you thought about what you were watching.
Enter the world of inter-active computing. Now, with the help of
super-technology and smaller but more powerful micro chips, you can be an
active audience, participating in the outcome of events, through your
thoughts and actions, and, eventually, your verbal instructions as well.
And, though there still may exist limitations on just how much impact you
can have on what you are playing with, still, they are certainly fewer
limitations than a decade ago.
So, too, is creation "inter-active," except that we can have greater impact
than we know, that we have less awareness about this than we ought to, and,
we have more invested in the outcome than we do in a computer game. For the
outcome directly affects the direction of history, our level of
self-fulfillment, and, eventually, our portion in the World-to-Come.
Thus, in this case, world perfection is the name, mitzvos the game -- even
the ones we don't relate to, for, as the Arizal adds:
Also, you must know that a person must fulfill all 613 mitzvos in action
and in speech -- in such a way as Chazal say that one who is involved with
the section dealing with the Burnt-Offering is considered to be one who has
offered it -- and, in thought as well. One who has not performed a mitzvah
on all three levels must reincarnate until all three levels have been
fulfilled. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 11)
Serve (va'avadetem) G-d, your G-d, and He will bless your bread and your
water, and remove sickness from amongst you. (Shemos 23:25)
On this posuk, the Talmud writes:
SERVE G-D YOUR G-D: This is the saying of the Shema and prayer; BLESS YOUR
BREAD AND YOUR WATER: This is bread with salt and a container of water,
and, from that point onward I will REMOVE SICKNESS FROM AMONGST YOU. (Bava
As the rabbis point, and the Nefesh HaChaim emphasizes, "avodah" always
means prayer. In most societies, prayer is prayer, and servitude is
servitude, and rarely do the two meet. But then again, Torah society is
rarely like most societies, and G-d is a unique Master, Who does not need
buildings built or fields plowed or clothing cleaned. He simply wants our
So what about all those mitzvos, 613 of THEM to be exact? Those are just to
help us get to the point where we can be loyal to G-d. Sometimes, it is
just a question of getting us to do the mitzvah, as an act of loyalty.
However, most of the time it is about rectification of ourselves, like the
previous d'var Torah pointed out. Everything flows from self- and
What does rectification mean? It means bringing the body and soul together
in spiritual unity. Though they may be together enough to provide life, in
most cases, they are not working in tandem, each going in separate
Once mankind had a body that was more like light than flesh, until Adam
HaRishon ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and brought
spiritual darkness upon creation. The result is a far more physical world,
one that is so material that one can even live with the belief that there
is NO soul, though it lives before our very noses. Rectification means to
reverse this procedure.
Can a body be loyal to a spiritual goal? Can a child? They are not much
different from each other, and, in truth, the latter is really the way he
is because of the former. A child is born with only his yetzer hara, the
yetzer tov not arriving onto the scene until Bar and Bas Mitzvah years later.
What does it mean to be loyal? It means to be faithful, trustworthy,
devoted, reliable, dependable, steadfast, and constant. What does it take
to make a person that way? Can it be imposed? Never. Can it be bought? Not
usually. Then how does one earn the loyalty of others?
People are loyal to loyal people. People care about people who care. They
dedicate themselves to people who are dedicated, and the more important the
value is to which they dedicate themselves, the deeper the sense of
dedication there will be from others to them. This is especially true when
it comes to parents are their children, which is why the Hebrew word for
"education" is "chinuch," which means "dedication."
If you think about it, you will see that loyalty is the basis of any
civilized and productive society. Cheating is the result of a lack of
loyalty, which, by definition, is a function of a lack of devotion to
important values by society and its members. It is very hard to cheat
loyal, dedicated, and selfless and self-sacrificing people.
This is why "avodah" for us is saying the Shema and praying. Both these
spiritual instruments act as view finders for us to see just how dedicated
and selfless G-d is when it comes to creation and running His world. He
didn't need to make us, or this entire universe, and derives no benefit
from doing so. He owes us NOTHING, yet, He did it anyhow, and continues to
do so every moment, strictly for OUR benefit.
All we have to do is recognize this, when focussing during the Shema and
saying our prayers. Our loyalty which naturally follow. We will HUNGER to
be loyal to G-d, and thirst for ways to show Him just how loyal we are.
But, that is not going to happen until we elevate our bodies, and bring
their vision in line with our souls'.
Then Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel
ascended. They saw the G-d of Israel, and under His feet there was a
something like sapphire brick, like the essence of heaven in purity.
Whatever THAT means. The Torah rarely does this, describing such a sublime
reality in such physical terms, which, of course, are only "borrowed"
terms. For, elsewhere it says, "What form can you ascribe to Him?"
The question is, why did the Torah feel compelled to provide such a
description, to provide such an overt Kabbalistic explanation of these
great men saw? Perhaps, part of the answer lies in the following discussion
of the Talmud, which is discussing the mitzvah of wearing "Techeles" -- the
purple-blue thread -- on Tzitzis:
It was taught in a brisa: Rebi Meir asked, "What is unique about Techeles
from all other colors? Because, Techeles is similar to the (color of the)
sea, and, the (color of the) sea is similar to the (color of the)
firmament, and, the (color of the) firmament is similar the Throne of
Glory, as it says, "under His feet there was a something like sapphire
brick, like the essence of heaven in purity. (Shemos 24:10)(Menachos 43b)
Maybe this is also why the Talmud says:
Another brisa taught: "You shall see them, and remember all the mitzvos of
G-d" (Bamidbar 15:39); This mitzvah (of wearing Tzitzis) is equal to all of
them. Another brisa taught: "You shall see them and remember them and do
them"; seeing brings to remembering, and remembering brings to doing. Rebi
Shimon bar Yochai said: All who zealously perform this mitzvah merit to
greet the "face" of the Divine Presence(Menachos 43b)
Hence, the gematria of the word "tzitzis" is equal to 600, the rabbis
teach, and, when you add the number eight (for the strings of one corner)
and the five knots that are tied, then, the total is equal to 613, the
number of mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, the mitzvah of Tzitzis is truly a
global one, with the Techeles-string acting as the link between Earth and
It is also a fantastic lesson in education as well. There are different
ways to teach children, and adults for that matter. One such way is to
focus on the details of a subject, for example, a particular mitzvah, and
to keep providing them, one after another, or a bunch at a time, and hope
that somehow the person gains from them what exist to teach.
Unfortunately, though, many people find such an approach to learning "dry"
and even confusing. Very often, interest in the subject is lost, and, the
student begins to lose his connection with the concept all together. The
result can be a global change for the worst: an abandonment of Torah and
mitzvos completely, G-d forbid.
Then there is the "Global Approach." This is a system of education where
the principle "pieces" of the intellectual puzzle are provided, which are
usually quite deep and profound, and, stimulating, for that matter. They
provide an intellectual glimpse into the inner workings of creation, which
allows all the details to find their correct context and meaning.
In fact, this was, IS, really the difference between the Aitz HaChaim --
Tree of Life -- and, the Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah - the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil. The Tree of Life is the "Big Picture," the principles of
creation and the axioms of truth. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
was the myriad of details about how to put the knowledge of the Tree of
Life into action.
Adam HaRishon made the mistake, not of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil, but, of doing so before eating from the Tree of Life
(Arizal, Leshem). He "consumed" the details before the "generalities," and
ended up be consumed by them. Did it bring him closer to G-d? No, it pushed
him further away from G-d, and made him hide!
Perhaps this is why this section comes at the tail end of a very
detail-oriented parshah, to remind us of the need to build the Tree of Life
into which to merge the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And, true to
the analogy of Tzitzis, "seeing leads to remembering, and, remembering
leads to doing."
For the Conductor, by Dovid, a psalm. O G-d, You have scrutinized me and
You know. You know my sitting down and my rising up, You understand my
thought from afar. You encompass my path and my rest; You are familiar with
all my ways. For, the word is not yet on my tongue, yet, You knew it all.
This is a psalm about G-d's omnipotence, and, about man's naivet, for, man
lives and acts as if he can hide something from G-d, when in fact, G-d
knows man's innermost thoughts, thoughts of which man himself might not
even be aware yet.
This is why one of the main pseudonyms for G-d is "HaMakom" -- "The Place."
This is to remind man that, G-d is not in creation, but rather, creation is
within G-d, so-to-speak. Nothing can exist outside of Him, and therefore,
everything is a part of Him -- including US -- what we think, what we say,
and what we do.
In fact, if you want to get really abstract, you can say that we exist as
figments of G-d's imagination, if you will. The implication of this is
quite obvious and dramatic: the moment G-d ceases to will ANYTHING --
including US -- then, at that split moment, that thing ceases to exist AT ALL.
Death, then, is not absolute. For, if G-d stopped willing the existence of
someone completely, then, the body would leave with the soul, and both
would disappear entirely. However, the soul remains after, as does the
body, though separate from each other. Death, therefore, is when G-d only
ceases to will the union of a particular body and soul, at least for the
For You created my mind; You have covered me in my mother's womb. I
acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are
Your works, and my soul knows it well. (13-14)
Correct -- the soul knows it well, VERY well indeed, but, the body. Now,
that's a different story altogether. Just as a child takes for granted the
miracle of life, and assumes that all he sees and experiences are givens
for being in This World, the parent knows otherwise. If only the child
could tap into the parent's mind, and experience through the parent what
the latter has gained over time. How wise the child, adolescent, and
teenager would be!
If only the body would tap into the soul's knowledge base -- ho wise a body
it would be! And when they don't, the world is filled with a lot of very
unwise bodies that can bring creation to ruination.
For those who hate You, G-d, I hate them, and I quarrel with those who rise
up against You. With the utmost hatred, I hate them, I regard them as my
own enemies. Search me, O G-d, and know my heart; test me and know my
thoughts. And see if I have displeasing ways; and lead me in the way of
That is the path of eternity -- to wake and realize that you can't hide
from G-d, and you can't even run from Him. He is everywhere, at all times,
and we are a part of Him. Becoming one with Him, and achieving completion
and perfection are all the same thing. Learning this earlier, rather than
later, is the test and struggle of life.