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The rabbis stated that there are 613 mitzvot (commandments) in Torah. 

They did this, I think, for several reasons. Among those was reinforcing Torah’s model of God’s Will applying in every area of our lives, not only in formal worship.

For a useful list of the commandments for reference, see: 

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-613-mitzvot-commandments

As an educator, I think there’s room in every branch of Judaism to review these. They define Judaism for us in practical terms, while leaving room for wider discussion about them. I, myself, did so some years ago with students in a pre-bar/bat mitzvah class. It was not to “indoctrinate” them. Rather, it was to help make our/their tradition clearer to them.

Yet, I think there was a “down side” to the rabbis’ characterization: It could leave us with a fractured sense of Torah; a sense that each mitzvah is unrelated to every other mitzvah and to the narrative parts of Torah.

So, without denying the use of “613” as a teaching tool, I would say that in fact, there is truly only one mitzvah: Accepting God’s Will in all things that happen to us.

The Talmud calls this “Kabbalat Ole Malchut ha-Shamayim/קבלת עול מלכות השמים” — “accepting on oneself the yoke of the kingdom (or kingship) of Heaven.” It is also referred to in TaNaCh as “Yirat Ha-Shem/יראת השם” — “the fear of God,” as in: “The beginning of wisdom is fear of God.” [1] “Fear,” of course, does not mean craven fright. It means “awe,” (implied in the Hebrew itself). 

“[Our sages teach] that the essence of the declaration of Shema/שמע lies in ‘kabalat ole malchut ha-shamayim,’ the subordination of all of our personality [i.e. will, desires] and of our entire world to the one and unique dominion of God.” [2]

When, saying the “Shema,” we declare that there’s “One God,” we are declaring that there is only One Cause of all that happens to us. That’s why the “Shema” is included in the “Malchuyot” of the Rosh Ha-Shanah liturgy. It’s made up of 10 declarations of God being “King.” In the first 9, the word “Melech/King/מלך” appears, but the 10th statement is the “Shema” itself.  

All study of Talmud, Kabbalah, Hasidut, or Jewish Philosophy, is only meant to bring us to this conviction.

All other “mtizvot” are details meant to repeat and reinforce this in our own awareness daily, everywhere we are, in everything we do.

All study of Torah and NaCh, whether narrative sections, “wisdom literature” (e.g. Proverbs), devotional poetry (e.g. Psalms), etc., is likewise meant to impress this on us.

“Accepting the yoke” is the “universal kavannah.”

It can’t be accomplished by intellectual recognition alone. 

We are meant to internalize it until it becomes our reality; until we respond to events accordingly, more or less spontaneously.

It requires an expansion of consciousness, to include that which is not seen along with that which is seen or otherwise sensed.

God is more real than the world. We haven’t really done the mitzvah until what is not seen is more real to us than what is seen.

Then, we can say “Ha-Shem echad” (“God is one”) from our hearts. 

As Rebbe Nachman of Breslav teaches:

“It is very good to rely on God completely. As each day begins, entrust your every movement and those of all who depend on you into God’s hands, asking that everything should go according to His will.
You will then not need to worry about whether or not things are going as they should, because you are relying on God. If He wants things to go differently from the way you may wish, you will be willing to accept everything the way He wants it.” [3]

Very similar is a teaching of Mokichi Okada, a Japanese spiritual teacher known as Meishu Sama (“Honored Teacher”). He was not from any of the standard monotheistic traditions, but was monotheistic himself, based on his own spiritual experiences.  He wrote:

“When I am faced with a difficult problem that seems to defy solution in spite of my best efforts, I turn to God in perfect trust for help and guidance. I release my problem to His Wisdom and wait until the answer presents itself. I can say from experience that, even though a prospect looks dark in the beginning,  the result is always better than anticipated.” [4

The one true mitzvah, then, is to accept God’s Will in all things, always. 

_______________________________________________________________________

[1] Mishle/Pr. 9:10
[2] Hirsch, Rabbi Samson Raphael; The Hirsch Siddur; Feldheim Publishers, © 1978; p. 114
[3] Sichot HaRan #2
[4] Okada, Mokichi; Fragmens from the Teachings of Meishu Sama; © 1965 by the Church of World Messianity; p. 39
also found in:
Okada, Mokichi; Teachings of Meishu Sama, vol three; © 2005 by Sekai Kyusei Kyo Izunome Kyodan; p. 17

Rabbi Eli Mallon

photo by Carl Merkin (cmerkin@verizon.net

Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW

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