613 Mitzvot

Rabbi David Shaw

Sandton Shul

You shall have no other gods besides Me. (Exodus 20:3)

לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָיַ. (שמות כ:ג)

Rabbi Simlai taught1: There were 613 mitzvot stated to Moses in the Torah, consisting of 365 prohibitions corresponding to the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive mitzvot corresponding to the number of a person’s limbs. Rav Hamnuna said: What is the verse that alludes to this? It is written: “Moshe commanded to us the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob”2. The word Torah, in terms of its numerical value [gematria], is 611,3 the number of mitzvot that were received and taught by Moshe our teacher. In addition, there are two mitzvot: “I am the L-rd your G-d”4 and: “You shall have no other gods”5, the first two of the Ten Commandments, that we heard from the mouth of the Almighty, for a total of 613.

In the text of the Aseret Hadibrot, the second of the ten states ”You shall not recognise the gods of others before My presence… do not make idols…do not bow down to them… do not worship them…”6

The Rambam counts each statement as a separate mitzvah.7 So we find that there are 5 mitzvot in the first two dibrot. The Ten Commandments are in fact fourteen commandments in ten sayings.

The Ramban8 asks this clearly contradicts the calculation in the above Gemara that said, 611 Mitzvot through Moshe and 2 directly from Hashem himself! According to the Rambam then 608 were said over by Moshe and 5 from Hashem - not 2!

The Ramban therefore concludes that the first two Dibrot constitute just 2 Mitzvot. Belief in the Almighty and a general mitzvah regarding the sin of idol worship.

How can we reconcile the Rambam’s view?

The Meshech Chochma,9 Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843–1926) explains that according to the Rambam, our ancestors heard two loud heavenly sounds for the first two Dibrot, and not words per se. The first sound demonstrating, unmistakably, that there is a G-d, and the second, that there is no other G-d but He.

Moshe then unpacked those sounds for the people and demonstrated the various additional Mitzvot found therein.

So we see that indeed 611 were heard from Moshe Rabbeinu and two were heard directly from Hashem!

Shavuot sameach! G-d bless!

1. Talmud, Makkot 23b

2. Deuteronomy 33:4

3. Talmud, Makkot 24a

4. Exodus 20:2

5. Exodus 20:3

6. Exodus 20:3-5

7. Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Mitzvot 2-6

8. Hasagot HaRamban on Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative mitzvah 5

9. Meshech Chochma, Parshat Yitro, Exodus 20:2

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi