How Many Mitzvot?


Said Rabbi Simlai: “Six hundred and thirteen precepts were given to Moses at Sinai, 365 prohibitions corresponding to the 365 days of the solar cycle, and 248 imperatives, corresponding to the 248 organs of the human body. Then came David and narrowed them down to 11, as it is written: ‘O God, who shall merit living in your tent? Who will merit to dwell on your holy mountain? The one who walks a path of simplicity and does acts of kindness, and whose heart resonates with truthfulness; whose speech knows no deceit and who does not wrong fellow creatures nor shame those who are kin; who despises the evil and honours those who appreciate the gifts of the Creator; who keeps promises to others and will not renege even at personal hardship; who does not exact interest for money loaned nor accept bribes at the expense of the innocent’ (Psalms 15) Then came Isaiah and narrowed them down to six, as it is written: ‘The one who walks with acts of kindness and resonates with justice; who despises profits gained from oppression; whose hands recoil from bribes; whose ears are muffled from hearing of destructive scheming; whose eyes are shut from gazing at evil’ (Isaiah 33:15). Then came Micah and narrowed them down to three, as it is written: ‘Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your Creator’ (Micah 6:8). Then came Isaiah again and narrowed them down further to two, as it is written: ‘Be ever so cautious to do justice and do charity’ (Isaiah 56 :1). Then came Amos and narrowed them down to one, as it is written: ‘Seek (God) and live’ (Amos 5:4). Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzhak said: “Then came Habakuk and narrowed them down to one, as it is written: ‘The just person shall live by their trust (in God)’ (Habakuk 2:4)”

Babylonian Talmud, Makot 23b-24A (based on translation by R’ Gershon Winkler)

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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