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SUBTRACTION THROUGH ADDITION

by Micah Gimpel    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

You shall not add anything to what I command you, nor shall you subtract from it, but keep the commandments of Hashem your G-d that I enjoin upon you. . .You who held fast to Hashem your G-d are all alive today" (Deuteronomy 4:2,4).

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You shall not add anything to what I command you, nor shall you subtract from it, but keep the commandments of Hashem your G-d that I enjoin upon you. . .You who held fast to Hashem your G-d are all alive today" (Deuteronomy 4:2,4).

With these words, the Torah reveals a basic theological truth critical for the religious personality. The problem of detracting from the divine commands is self-evident. Divine, by definition, means that every detail is beyond the jurisdiction of human criticism. However, the reason for prohibiting additional mitzvot from the traditional 613 seems elusive. As long as we abide by all of Hashem's rules, why should there be any problem with increasing our own personal burden? Of course, distorting any individual mitzvah must be outlawed, but the verse's command also inhibits our instituting any personal touch to our unique religious lifestyles. Why would Hashem want to limit our ability to show sincere personal expressions?

In truth, Hashem never wants to curb our religious development, but would rather nurture us in reaching our potential. In fact, this law demanding our careful observance without adding or subtracting from the mitzvot ensures our accurate perception of the Torah and its divinity. By restricting our freedom of instituting new laws or annulling established commands, we are compelled to see the Torah as uniquely divine. Human intervention can play no role in authorizing the Torah. Neither can we add nor subtract, for better or for worse, because the concept of better or worse is alien to Torah. What is perfect can not afford any adjustment. Any deviation from perfection becomes imperfect.

In the same vein, we can clarify an apparent oxymoron in the Talmud: "All who add really detract" (Tractate Sanhedrin 29a). The sages understand this statement to mean that if a person adds a little one time, another time he will be willing to take away a little. A person will not be cautious to observe the laws according to the demand of the law. An alternate interpretation to the Talmud's maxim further explains why it is prohibited to add and subtract from the laws of the Torah. The very fact that a person feels that he has the authority to declare new Torah laws, forfeits the position of the Torah. When the Torah becomes slave to our approval or input, we rob the Torah of its holiness. Therefore, if we add to the Torah, we detract from its divinity.

So now, we have developed a new appreciation of the verse quoted at the beginning of this article: ". . .You who held fast to Hashem your G-d are all alive today."

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Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a junior at Yeshiva University in New York.

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