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Chofetz Chaim

Authors Foreword

Rambam wrote at the end of hilchoth me’ilah (his monumental code of Jewish law) " It would be well for man to meditate in study on the laws of the holy Torah, to know their ultimate meaning and purpose to the extent of his ability. Yet if there is something for which he finds no reason and knows no purpose, let it not be a light trifling matter in his eyes. Let him not break through to rise up against God lest He break out against him. Let his thinking not be like his thoughts about ordinary non-holy matters.

Come and see how strict the Torah is about me’ilah a breach or violation of holiness. Now this concerns wood and stones, dust and ash. Once the name of God of the world is linked with them by mere pronouncement of words, they become holy. If anyone treats them in profane unholy way he commits a breach of holiness with them. Even if done unintentionally he would need atonement. Then how much more certainly would this be true with the Mitzvot , the commandments the Holy One blessed is He, enacted for us- that a man should not reject them because he does not know the reason. Nor should he fabricate ideas that are not correct about God, nor to apply profane non-holy matter to them. (the Mitzvot)

It is plainly stated in the Torah “you shall observe all My statutes (hukkim)and all My ordinances (mishpatim) and do them” Vayikra19:37 , 20:22. The Sages of blessed memory taught that the “observance” and “doing” applies to statutes and ordinances. We know “doing” means that statutes are to be done and “observing” means to watch and take care about them not imagining they are inferior to the ordinances. The “ordinances” are the commandments whose reason is obvious and the benefit of performing them is known, for example robbery, bloodshed and respect for father and mother. The “statutes” are commandments whose reason is unknown. The Sages taught “I have enacted “statutes” for you and you have no right to entertain doubtful thoughts regarding them” Midrash Tehillim 9. A man’s evil impulse troubles him about them and the nations of the world comment caustically about them, for example the prohibition of eating pig, meat with milk, the red heffer whose neck is broken and the goat sent into the wilderness.

How much King David was distressed by the heretics and idol worshippers who would comment scornfully about “statutes”. When they pursued him with their false retorts that they formulated by the inadequacy of human thought he would increase his devotion to Torah study. As it says “The rebelliously wicked have besmirched me with a lie but I with my whole heart will keep your precepts” Tehillim 119:69 and it continues “All Your commandments are trustworthy; they persecute me with falsehood. Help me!” Tehillim 119:86

All the offering and sacrifices are in the category of “statutes”, yet the Sages said that for the sake of the offering of the Temple service the world endures. For by fulfilling the “statutes” and “ordinances” the upright decent people become entitled to life in the world to come. The Torah gave the command about “statutes” first as it says “You shall therefore keep My “statutes” and My “ordinances” , which if a man does he shall live by them” Vayikra 18:5

The Rambam wrote at the end of hilchoth t’murah “Most laws of the Torah are counsels from a distant past from the One who is great in counsel” to correct and improve our conceptions and make all our actions straight and decent. Scripture says “Have I not written for you excellent things of counsels and knowledge to make you know the certainty of words of truth, that you may answer words of truth to those who have sent you” –This is the language of the Rambam.

Now Scripture says “Happy is the man who fears God, who delights greatly in His commandments” Tehillim 112:1. By the plain meaning of the verse “who fears God” refers to prohibitions/negative commandments in our holy Torah. The phrase “who delights greatly in His commandments” refers to the positive commandments in the Torah. The intention is that a person should carry out the positive commandments and watch himself and take care not to transgress the negative commandments.

We find the Sages made a precise inference from the term “ in His commandments” (Talmud Bavli Avodah Zarah 19a) explaining that it implies “but not the reward for His commandments”. Now at first sight this seems puzzling. Surely we know that the reward for keeping the mitzvoth is to enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence in Paradise. This is such a great pleasure that we cannot form in our mind any conception of its value. When the Sages wished to reveal to us the immense worth of this pleasure they found no set finite measure for it but could only sum it up in one general statement: “Greater is one hour of calm satisfaction of spirit in the world to come than all life in this world” Pirkei Avot 4:17 . The phrase “all life in this world” includes the life of kings and noblemen with all their pleasures, high rank and stature, all their great wealth. This also includes every kind of life of enjoyment and delight that the human mind can possibly conceive. This is all absolutely nothing when compared with the delight of “enjoying the radiance of God’s Presence”. “One hour of calm satisfaction of spirit in the world to come is indeed better than all life in this world”

Then it seems puzzling – who would not yearn and long for the reward of mitzvoth when it offers such a great reward beyond any measure.

Let us take an example – We see with our own eyes that is someone has been chosen from the people, one out of tens of thousands, that he should be amongst those that see the king constantly and also be the head of the government officers. If someone offered him a considerable amount of money under no circumstances would he be willing to take the huge sum of money in exchange for his right to see the king constantly and to stand at the head of the government officers. Then how much more certainly to the penultimate degree of certainty would this apply to the ability to enjoy the radiance of Gods Presence, which is a truly extreame pleasure beyond anything we can describe. For sure not all the coffers and treasures of kings would be worth in anyone’s eyes one moment of calm satisfaction of spirit in the world to come. Then if so how is it possible to decide and say that a person should have no delight in the reward of a mitzvah. This is very puzzling.

Well I thought to explain that it is a known matter that wherever the Torah says “very much/greatly “ (me’od) it means “without end or limit” –something that will never terminate. This is what is meant by the words “who delight greatly in His commandments but not the reward of His commandments.” Although we have explained the great value of the reward for the mitzvoth, that it is on a most high and exulted level and the immense longing of a person to attain this exquisite pleasure. Nevertheless “ who delights greatly in His commandments” lies ones infinite boundless longing and yearning after he ponders and considers the greatness of the mitzvah itself , how far reaching the effect is. Then even the reward is to be reckoned as nought and nothing compared with the great value of doing the mitzvah itself. So there is no end or limit to a person’s longing to fulfil a mitzvah.

Now that we have explained all this, every man in Jewry will certainly desire and delight to observe all the mitzvott hat he possibly can . Yet if a person will set before his eyes al the 248 positive commandments of our holy Torah, he will find many Mitzvot impossible to keep.

There are many commandments in force in Land of Israel but not other countries outside of the Israel.T here are Mitzvot in force only when the Sanctuary exists. There are those related to ritual holiness and purity. There are those in force only at a court of men ordained and authorised and we do not have such a court. If one were to try select Mitzvot that would be possible to keep, it would be a difficult matter for him.

We have therefore gathered here, with Gods help, in a separate small work 77 positive commandments that we are able to perform at the present time and 194 prohibitions that man should refrain from doing at the present time, according to the Rambam and many early authorities.

Now that it should not be difficult for a person to learn all the positive commandments at one time, my advice is to study half of them on Monday and half of them on Thursday every week. So in the course of time he will know fluently all the positive mitzvoth that a person can possibly perform at the present time. Afterwards the same should be done to learn the prohibitions. Study half on Monday and half on Thursday until in the course of time all the prohibitions of which we need to be aware will be known fluently.

And so whenever one of these mitzvoth will come up he will remember and carry it out. As the Sages said on the verse “and you shall see it and you will remember all of Gods commandments and do them” Bemidbar 15:39

Remembering leads to doing

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