14 Jan Parashat Shemot: Fulfilling All 613 Misvot
When G-d appears to Moshe at the burning bush and instructs him to go to Egypt and inform Beneh Yisrael of their imminent redemption, Moshe voices his concern that the people will want to know more about G-d. In response, G-d tells Moshe to inform Beneh Yisrael that “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh” appeared to him, add He then adds, “Zeh Shemi Le’olam Ve’zeh Zichri Le’dor Dor” – “This is My Name forever, and this is how I am referred to for all generations” (Shemot 3:15).
What exactly is Hashem conveying in his Pasuk? Why must He emphasize that this is His Name “forever” and “for all generations”?
The answer lies in a deeper understanding of the concept of Misvot. G-d gave us 613 Misvot, which correspond to the 613 portions of the human soul. Each Misva that we perform has the effect of nourishing the corresponding portion of the soul. Our task in this world is to perform all the Misvot to the best of our ability so we can develop our souls to their fullest potential.
The question, however, arises, how can we nourish all 613 portions of our souls if we cannot fulfill all 613 Misvot? Many Misvot apply only to Kohanim, and many apply only in the times of the Bet Ha’mikdash. Some apply to men, and some only to women. Many Misvot apply only in the Land of Israel. The Misva of Pidyon Ha’ben applies only if one’s firstborn is a boy. The Misva of Yibum applies only in the rare case of a married man who dies without children and he has a brother. There is no person who can fulfill all the commandments. How do we reconcile this fact with the concept that the 613 Misvot nourish and sustain the 613 portions of our souls?
One of the solutions to this dilemma is that we sustain our souls by applying the messages and concepts that underlie the Misvot. It goes without saying that we are strictly obligated to observe every Misva that we are capable of observing. One cannot excuse himself from Shabbat observance and just applying the lessons and messages of Shabbat. This is obvious. But when it comes to the many Misvot which we cannot practically observe, such as the laws that apply in the Bet Ha’mikdash, we can and must try to study these laws to uncover their deep meaning and significance so we can apply these underlying concepts in our daily lives.
For example, there is a Misva for the Kohanim to pour wine on the Mizbe’ah (altar) in the Bet Ha’mikdash along with the sacrifices. Our Sages teach that one who feeds and supports a Torah scholar is considered to have poured wine upon the altar. There is a Misva to help somebody unload his cargo from his donkey if the donkey cannot travel because of the heavy load. Although we do not use donkeys nowadays, we can be credited with this Misva by allowing people in pain to “unload” their emotional burden, by lending a sensitive, compassionate ear so they talk about their troubles and experience some comfort. There is a Misva to leave a corner of one’s field for the poor; we can fulfill this Misva by allocating a portion of our grocery budget for needy families. Couples who are unable to have children can fulfill the Misva of procreation by making a Shidduch or helping to fund another couple’s fertility treatments.
Moshe feared that when Beneh Yisrael hear about G-d’s plan to take them from Egypt and give them the Torah, they would wonder how they could possibly fulfill all 613 Misvot. He therefore told Moshe, “Zeh Shemi Le’olam Ve’zeh Zichri Le’dor Dor.” G-d told Moshe that the word “Shemi” – which has the numerical value of 350, can have 15 added to it and thus become 365 – the number of Torah prohibitions. The first two letters of Hashem’s Name is “Yod” and “Heh,” which have a combined numerical value of 15, and they combine with “Shemi” to reach 365. Likewise, the word “Zichri” has the numerical value of 237, and by adding the numerical value of the final two letters of G-d’s Name – “Vav” and “Heh” (11) – we reach 248 – the number of Misvot Aseh (affirmative commands). Hashem here is teaching us that we can be considered to have fulfilled all 613 commands “Le’olam” – which can be read to mean “hidden” or “concealed.” By applying the hidden messages underlying the Misvot, we are able to turn 350 into 365 and 237 into 248; we are able to fulfill even those Misvot which cannot practically be observed.
In order to accomplish this goal, however, we need to study. We need to spend the time learning about all the Misvot, even those which we cannot observe in the practical sense nowadays. The more time we devote to learning, the more we plumb the depths of the Misvot and uncover their hidden messages, which we can then apply in our daily lives and thereby fulfill all the Torah’s commands.