The Mitzvah Mensch!

Dear Friends,


In the concluding chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon conveys the following message regarding mitzvos and the “mensch” – the true human being:


“The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Revere God and keep His mitzvos, for this is the whole of the human being.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)


The Chofetz Chaim offers an explanation of the above verse which is based on a mystical teaching in “Sefer Chareidim” – a noted kabbalistic work written by Rabbi Elazar Ezkari, a leading sage who lived in Tsfas during the 16th century. The following are excerpts from the Chofetz Chaim’s explanation:


“The human body is composed of 248 organs and 365 sinews (a total of 613 parts). Corresponding to this are the 248 spiritual organs and 365 spiritual sinews of the soul. As Scripture states: ‘You clothed me with skin and flesh; You covered me with bones and sinews’ (Job 10:11). The various parts of the body are referred to as ‘clothing’ and ‘covering’ for they clothe and cover the soul within the human being. Each physical organ corresponds to a specific aspect of the soul.”


The Chofetz Chaim then discusses the relationship of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah to the 613 parts of the body, and he uses the Hebrew terms mitzvos aseh and mitzvos lo-sa’asey. The term mitzvos aseh refers to the 248 mitzvos of action which enable us to serve and elevate all aspects of Hashem’s world, including the world within ourselves. The term mitzvos lo-sa’asey refers to the 365 mitzvos which prohibit us from doing or saying anything which can damage Hashem’s world, including the world within ourselves. The Chofetz Chaim writes:


“Hashem has given us 248 mitzvos aseh and 365 mitzvos lo-sa’asey which relate to the particular parts of the body with which they are performed. By performing a given mitzvah through a given organ, a spiritual light comes to rest upon the corresponding component of the soul; it is from this light that this component draws eternal vitality.


“Thus, when a person fulfills all the Torah’s mitzvos, he transforms himself into a whole human being whose every fiber is sanctified unto Hashem.”


The above teaching is found at the beginning of the Chofetz Chaim’s work, “Shmiras Haloshon” – Guarding the Tongue. In a later chapter he adds:


“In summation: One must strive to fulfill each and every mitzvah, be it between the human being and God or between the human being and his fellow, for each is an expression of Hashem’s will. Thus does the Torah state: ‘Apply your hearts to all the words which with I bear witness to you today, that you may charge your children to conscientiously fulfill all the words of this Torah. For it is not a Word empty of you, for it is your life, and with it you will prolong your days on the land to which you cross the Jordan’ (Deuteronomy 32:46.47).


“Let no one think that even a single mitzvah is extraneous, a matter just for those who seek exceptional refinement of character or spiritual attainment. For it is your life. No part of the human body is extraneous; each serves an important function without which the body would be unsound. Similarly, each mitzvah provides its own unique spirituality and is vital to the soul’s well-being.


“Thus do we conclude the reading of the Book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes): ‘The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Revere God and keep His mitzvos, for this is the whole of the human being.’ To be the whole human being, a human being of spiritual perfection, one must revere God so that he will refrain from doing that which the Torah prohibits, and he must keep His mitzvos, that is all the mitzvos aseh – mitzvos of action. This is the whole of the human being.”


As we discussed, there are some mitzvos of the Torah which can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel. We therefore need the Land of Israel in order to achieve the goal of becoming a whole human being.


The above teachings lead to the following question: There are some mitzvos of the Torah which are just for certain groups or individuals. For example, there are some mitzvos which only a Kohen or a Levi can do. In addition, there are some mitzvos which only apply to certain activities or circumstances which not everyone shares. For example, there are some mitzvos which are for farmers, and a city dweller may not get the opportunity to fulfill these agricultural mitzvos. How, then, is it possible for each member of our people to fulfill all the mitzvos and thereby become a whole human being?


The Ohr HaChayim, a leading 18th century sage and commentator, addresses this question, and he offers the following answer:


The Torah was given to be fulfilled by the entire Community of Israel, and when the various members of the Community of Israel fulfill those particular mitzvos which they are able to do, they confer merit one upon the other! (Commentary on Exodus 39:32)


In others words, we are one community whose members have a shared responsibility to fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah, and when each member of the Community of Israel does a mitzvah, all the other members spiritually benefit. Each of us can therefore attain wholeness through the mitzvah observance of all the members of the Community of Israel.


Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


P.S. The above teachings of the Chofetz Chaim can be found in the ArtScroll book, “Chofetz Chaim – A Lesson A Day” (Torah laws and teachings regarding the prohibitions against unethical speech). This English book offers a slightly abridged edition of two of the Chofetz Chaim’s works. For information on this book, visit: .

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