Blog: A Whole Lot of Commandments

Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know, I learned something so startling that I now realize I know nothing. For my entire life, I thought that the Lord hath given us Ten Commandments; that is, until the other day when I went to the bar mitzvah of my friend’s grandson.

On the bar mitzvah’s program was the following: “The tallit is a prayer shawl worn by Jews in accordance with biblical law. The tallit has 613 fringes, turns and knots, the exact number of commandments in the Torah.” Come again–613 commandments!

If this is correct, then I have been ignorant of 603 commandments all these years. I immediately called my observant friends back East—Jeannie and Kenny Prager—and yes, there are 613 commandments, although the top 10 with which we are most familiar are by far the most important.

Sometimes I find it difficult enough just to obey the 10 commandments given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, so any way you slice it, 603 additional commandments are a whole lot of commandments to follow. They cover everything from when you rest to what you eat, and when and with whom you have carnal knowledge. They tell you what not to do (a lot) and what to do (a lot).  

Many of the commandments are rather easy for me to follow, such as “Not to be superstitious,” or “Not to perform acts of magic” or “A man must not remarry his ex-wife after she has married someone else,” (this was especially easy for me to obey), or “Not to have sexual relations with your mother, father’s wife, sister, father’s wife’s daughter, son’s daughter, your daughter, your daughter’s daughter,” etc. (By this time you get the idea.)

Several of the commandments do not seem to apply to me at all, such as “Not to let a eunuch marry into the Jewish people,” or “The High Priest must not marry a widow,” or “To burn a city that has turned to idol worship” or “Not to plant a tree in the Temple courtyard.”

Unfortunately, to be perfectly honest, there are so many commandments which I have not followed, this column does not afford me enough space to list them all. For example, I struggle with repenting and confessing my wrongdoings, sometimes I do try the Lord unduly, and I have embarrassed others more than once (to say nothing of myself). I have borne grudges and don’t always love other Jews (or anybody else for that matter).

There are a great number of instructions for when to rest and when not to labor. These are among my favorite commandments. 

Some of the commandments don’t seem in keeping with today’s world. For instance, “The rapist must marry his victim if she is unwed,” probably does not jive with the #MeToo movement. 

All I can say is my life was so much easier when I had only Ten Commandments to obey. It is one thing not to murder nor to worship idols, but life is far more complicated when I am commanded to shave my beard without a razor. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

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