75 words for 75 years of Israel – Mitzvah/Commandment

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

מִצְוָה

MITZVAH

MITZ-VAH

COMMANDMENT

“If, then, you obey the commandments that I command you this day, loving Hashem your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul.” (Deuteronomy 11:13)

והיה אם שמע תשמעו אל מצותי אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום לאהבה את יהוה אלהיכם ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם.

“That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of God and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.” (Numbers 15:39)

והיה לכם לציצת וראיתם אתו וזכרתם את כל מצות יהוה ועשיתם אתם ולא תתרו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם אשר אתם זנים אחריהם.

Though many are familiar with the word mitzvah, its meaning is generally misunderstood. Mitzvah does not mean “a good deed,” as it is so often understood in popular culture, but rather “commandment.” While all human beings must observe the seven mitzvot that God commanded to Noah, the people of Israel were given 613 commandments as part of their unique mission to bring Godliness into all aspects of our lives, through thought, speech and action. 

God Himself promises that if the Israelites keep God’s commandments, “I will grant the rain for your land in season” and “I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.” (Deuteronomy 11:14-15). The spiritual devotion of the Israelites will bring physical blessing to the world. This appears to contradict the sages’ teaching that the Bible does not tell us the reward for keeping God’s commandments. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the Bible is not telling us the reward for fulfilling God’s commandments, but that nature will naturally bring blessings to the world when the Israelites follow God’s word.

The mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, a four-cornered garment with fringes, reminds us of all of the commandments, as it says, “look at it and recall all the commandments of God and observe them” (Numbers 15:39). The numerical value of the Hebrew word tzitzit is 600. The fringes on each corner are doubled over to make 8 strings and those strings are tied into 5 sets of double knots. When we add 600, 8 and 5, we get 613, the total number of commandments in the Bible. By looking at the tzitzit, we recall all 613 of God’s commandments. 

The Israel Bible Team

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