V'Zot HaBracha(Deuteronomy 33-34)
The Numerous Mitzvot
The very final portion in the Torah contains the first verse that we teach our children; “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha, kehillat Yaakov1.” (“Moses taught us the Torah, it is an inheritance to the nation of Jacob.”) This verse is the source of the concept that there are 613 Mitzvot (Taryag Mitzovs). The Gemara says that the gematria (numerical value) of the word, ‘Torah’ is 611, which teaches us that Moses instructed the Jewish nation in 611 mitzvot and God directly told them the remaining two, those of belief in Him and the prohibition to follow other gods, bringing the total to 6132.
This Gemara causes the commentaries great difficulty in defining which commands in the Torah are included in the 613, because, in truth there seem to be far more commands than these 613. The brother of the Vilna Gaon addresses this problem in the book ’Maalot HaTorah’. He quotes his brother explaining that the Torah is compared to a tree; a tree has roots and has many branches that sprout from the roots. So too, the Torah has 613 roots which comprise the Taryag Mitzvot, but that there are numerous branches that sprout from each root, all of which are Torah obligations.
He goes further and writes that all the stories in the Torah are replete with mitzvot that obligate us in numerous ways. Each lesson derived from the actions of the characters in the Torah constitutes a Torah obligation, consequently the number of mitzvot in the Torah becomes incredibly great. This is the explanation of the Rabbi’s saying that God wanted to benefit the Jewish people by giving them many mitzvot - it does not just refer to the 613 of Taryag, rather to the thousands of obligations that arise from all the stories in the Torah3
With this understanding we can approach learning Torah with a new perspective. When the Torah tells us an account of an event, it is not merely telling us an interesting historical incident; rather it is teaching us valuable lessons about how we should live our own lives. Rav Noach Weinberg explains that the Torah is not merely a ‘history book’ rather it is called ‘Torat Chaim’, which is literally translated as ‘Instructions for Living.’
This lesson is highly relevant as we complete the annual cycle of learning and celebrate the gift of Torah. Torah is not merely a highly intelligent and interesting book, it is God’s detailed instructions of how to conduct our lives. This applies to all aspects of Torah, including the Gemara and Jewish law. However, it is perhaps most apparent with regard to the Chumash. One Torah scholar pointed out that it is possible for a person to miss this vital point and instead primarily look to the Chumash as a source of a ‘good Dvar Torah’ on the Parsha to be said over at the Shabbat table! There is nothing wrong with having something to say at the Shabbat table, however, it is important to remember that the Chumash is God’s instructions about how to live our lives.
Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky makes this point in a recommendation to a book that emphasizes the relevance of Torah to our daily lives. He quotes the Ramban: “When you rise from studying a book, ponder carefully what you have learned in order to see what there is in it that can be put into practice.” Rav Kushelevski comments:
“The above words, written by the Ramban in a famous letter to his son, instructs us to search for the practical application of everything we learn in Torah. As lofty and essential as this goal is, however, it is one that often eludes us. We tend to perceive our Torah study as an intellectual pursuit, divorced from the reality of our lives.4”
Simchat Torah is a day when we celebrate the great gift of Torah. May we all merit utilizing this gift to its fullest.
1 Vezot HaBracha, 33:4.
2 Makkot, 23b-24a.
3 Introduction to Maalot HaTorah.
4 Haskama to ‘Relevance’ by Rav Dan Roth Shlita.