IT ALL ADDS UP
King David proclaimed "Torat Hashem temimah - the law of G-d is perfect" (Psalms 19:8). The Torah, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is the quintessential example of perfection.
King David proclaimed "Torat Hashem temimah - the law of G-d is perfect" (Psalms 19:8). The Torah, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is the quintessential example of perfection. As such, we have a commandment several Torah portions ago, in Parshat Re'eh, to neither add nor subtract from the Torah's mitzvot. By definition, this state of perfection cannot be improved and the Torah must be observed exactly as G-d commanded it.
This gives rise to a fundamental question: If the mitzvot which comprise our perfect Torah are Divine and unalterable, what is the justification for all of the rabbinically-instituted decrees? The answer can be found later in Deuteronomy where the Torah itself empowers Jewish religious leaders to make decrees. Some decrees, such as the institution of the festival of Chanukah, were enacted so the Jewish people could show gratitude to Hashem for saving them. Other decrees were enacted by the rabbis to serve as a protection and halachic barrier to guard Jews from violating other Torah laws. However, those rabbinic decrees remain on a different level than the mitzvot of the Torah.
Interestingly, we find an apparently unnecessary repetition of the mitzvah to neither add nor subtract from the Torah. It was first stated in Parshat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 4:2) and repeated in Parshat Re'eh. What is the purpose of the repetition of the nearly identical verses and what can we glean from them? The Vilna Gaon, the great Torah scholar at the end of the 18th century, notes that if you look closely at the verses they are not identical. In Parshat Re'eh the Torah states, "Lo tosif al kol davar - do not add on to anything." The word "kol - any" is not mentioned in the Va'etchanan verse. The Vilna Gaon explains that in Parshat Va'etchanan the Torah prohibited the adding of entire new commandments to the 613, while the verse in Parshat Re'eh refers to not adding anything - even details - to the pre-existing mitzvot.
The Torah Temimah, a classic commentary on the Torah compiled at the beginning of this century, further explains the rationale behind this commandment. If a person adds to a mitzvah at his own discretion, he is relegating the mitzvot to mere suggestions which can be improved upon. Hence, nothing remains to prevent him from completely deleting the mitzvot if he so chooses. As the mitzvot are absolute binding decrees, each detail is a reflection of the truth and perfection. One who is willing to alter the mitzvot does not understand this point.
Joey Wagner, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.
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