Sefer HaChinukh the guiding line for coming back to His Torah

Sefer HaChinukh the guiding line for coming back to His Torah
Isa 55:6-8 Seek יהוה while He is to be found, call on Him while He is near.
7 Let the wrong forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to יהוה, who has compassion on him, and to our Elohim, for He pardons much.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares יהוה.
Composed in Middle-Age Spain (c.1255 - c.1285 CE). The Sefer ha-Hinukh (Book of Education), is a work which systematically discusses the 613 commandments of the Torah. It was published anonymously in 13th century Spain. The work's enumeration of the commandments is based upon Maimonides' system of counting as per his Sefer Hamitvot; each is listed according to its appearance in the weekly Torah portion and the work is structured correspondingly. It separately discusses each of the 613 commandments, both from a legal and a moral perspective. For each, the discussion starts by linking the mizvah to its Biblical source, and then addresses the philosophical underpinnings of the commandment. Following this, it presents a brief overview of the halakha (practical Jewish law) governing its observance - usually based on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah - and closes with a summary as to the commandment's applicability. The sixteenth century author Gedaliah ibn Yaḥyah credited the Sefer ha-Hinukh to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona(1235-c. 1290), a Talmudic scholar and halakhist; but others disagree, as the views of the Hinukh contradict opinions held by HaLevi in other works. This has led to the conclusion that the true author to Sefer Ha-Hinukh was a different Rabbi Aharon Halevi, a student of the Rashba, rather than his colleague Though there is a debate about who is the true author, it is agreed upon that the Sefer ha-Hinukh was written by a father to his son, upon reaching the age of Bar Mizvah. Professor Israel Ta-Shma of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem argued that the author is in fact Aaron's brother, Pinchas ben Joseph ha-Levi.
Sefer HaChinukh, translated by Sefaria, 2018
Introduction of the Rabbi, the author of the Sefer Hachinukh
The clear truth in the human species is that which most people in the world have agreed about - and the opinion of all people has already agreed with it - to believe the testimony of people. And with the proliferation of those testifying about a thing about which they are testifying, the thing is more established in the eyes of its hearers. And in those testifying being few, a bit of doubt develops in the thing for those that are sharp. And this matter has become so strong among people to the point that they fixed it in the practices of each and every nation to kill a man according to the testimony of two or three witnesses. And since three is more honored [than two], the perfect Torah also [mentioned it]. And from this reason also did the opinion of all agree to accept from the mouths of the testimony of their fathers, their elders, about that which they tell them that happened in their days or in the days of their fathers or in the days of the fathers of their fathers. And there is no doubt that in the fathers testifying being many - and in the ones that the event happened in their days being many - the thing is strengthened in the hearts of the children that hear [it]. Therefore when God wanted to give the Torah to His people, Israel, He gave it to them in the eyes of six hundred thousand adult men, besides the many infants and women, that they all be believable witnesses about the things. Also in order that the testimony be stronger and more believable, they all merited prophecy [at that time]. As doubt never develops about that which one knows by way of prophecy. And that is [the meaning of] that which God said to Moshe, "in order that the people hear My speaking to you, and they also believe in you forever" (Exodus 19:9) - meaning to say, they and their children will believe in you and your prophecy forever. As they will then know [with] a trustworthy knowledge that God speaks with a man and he can live, and that all of your prophecy is true. And had it not been that they merited prophecy, a claimant could have argued about all of the signs that Moshe did in the eyes of Pharaoh and in their eyes and said, "Who knows if he did it with machinations of the wisdom of demons or with the power of the names of the angels. And even though the wise men of Egypt and all of its magicians, who were more expert in the wisdom of demons and magic than all the rest of the world, conceded to Moshe against their will and said to Pharaoh that it it was through the power of God that he did [it] - as it is written (Exodus 8:15), "it is the finger of God" - nonetheless, one who wants to be stubborn will say it was from his greater wisdom that he did it and they conceded to him. But after the prophecy, no type of hesitation remained about the matter. And [so] they knew clearly that all of the events were done by the command of the Master of the world, and that everything come to them from His hand. And they - who saw with their eyes and knew the thing with a true knowing that people do not have any stronger truth than this - testified to their children that were born afterwards that all the words of the Torah, from the [first letter] bet of the [first word], Bereshit to the lamed [at the end of the final words] le'einei kol Yisrael, that they received from Moshe in the eyes of all of Israel were true and clear without any hesitation in the world. And their children also testified to their children and their children to their children until [it reached] us. It comes out that the Torah that is in our hands is a true Torah according to six hundred thousand believable witnesses - which is the tally that includes all the opinions of the men, besides the infants and the women. And now if a seducer, 'whose heart turns away from the Lord, our God,' would claim to us and say, "What is it with you, Jew-man, and your tradition? And what is with you to 'ask your father and your elder?' Investigate and search well with your intellect and establish your reasoning. 'Open your eyes and see' what is in your world - the movement of the sphere and the four basic elements of the land. From them you will you will see and understand the hidden things of wisdom. And investigate with your reason and you shall learn how the One unified"; we would [then] respond to him: From the angle of our investigation, we could never grasp anything of the word of God. As even in matters of the lowly world, all the wise men of science have not been able to come to fullness [of understanding]. As through the wisdom of investigation, who will reveal the mystery of the grasses and the fruit, the mystery of precious stones and vegetables and the cause of the movement of iron with magnetic rocks? As all of the wise men of science and all the men of understanding have stood wondering [about these things]. Even more [would they not be helpful] if we would say to understand from them the glorious wisdoms and the knowledge of God's existence. God forbid for us, God forbid, to come behind the King in our arrogance and to raise our hand and to think thoughts from that which is above our thoughts and for which we have no need. As behold our ancestors, may their memory be blessed, set up a table in front of us - they probed deeply and they come to the fullness of true knowledge. They grasped knowing that God speaks to a man and he can live. And [hence] what is it to us after this to investigate and to examine if the truth is with them? Rather [it is] for us to drink their words with thirst, according to their words and according to their expressions. And the parable for this is one to whom it has been testified by thousands of thousands of people to not drink from the waters of a river, because they have seen these waters kill its drinkers. And the thing was experienced a thousand times at different time periods and with people [from] different lands. And a sage expert physician said to him, "Do not believe all of them, as I am informing you from the perspective of wisdom that these waters are not fitting to kill, since they are clear and light and the dirt that goes through them is goodly. Drink them until your soul is satiated." Would it be good for this one to leave the famous testimony of all and to do like the words of the sage? Truly the matter is not good and an intelligent person will not listen to him and will not do like his words. This is the matter that we have prefaced - that the truth of matters of the world is known by the multitude of people that testify about it more than by those that prove their words from the angle of their intellect and investigation. Since because man is lacking perfection, his intellect does not grasp the fullness of things. And therefore the chosen path is for a man to fulfill all the words of the Torah, which was received by trustworthy witnesses, which the Master of wisdom gave to people. And in it is included all precious knowledge and all glorious wisdom.
And [maybe] one would ask, "What is the matter that God gave such a precious Torah to people? Does not God have everything, and there is no measure to His elevation and to His glory? And there is no addition to His glory from the knowing of men of the power of His deeds; as there can be no addition or subtraction to complete glory and majesty on account of something [else]. The answer to this is obvious: That the mind of people does not grasp the ways of his Creator to know what is the reason for His deeds; as higher are 'His ways than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.' And even though the reason for the thing is not revealed to us, we should believe that the Father of wisdoms, the Master of all, does everything that He does for a purpose and for a positive matter. And nonetheless it is possible for us to find a little reason and to say that people's knowledge of the ways of God is necessitated by His loftiness, may He be blessed. As since it came up in His thought in front of Him to create the world, it is fitting that it be with complete perfection - since all of the acts of the Perfect One are perfect. And this is the truth, since Blessed be He was perfect in everything, as nothing is lacking from Him, such that a man could say, "Why did He not do this in His world?" As he knows His advantage over him in wisdom. As behold, He created separated intellects in His world - and they are the angels. And He also created intellects in permanent bodies - and they are the heavens and all of their hosts. And He created physical bodies without any intellect at all in the world - and they are the beasts and the birds and the other species that are similar to them. And he also created physical creatures with intellect - and that is the human species - to make known that that nothing is prevented from Him (He can do anything). As even though the physical and the intellect are complete opposites, He mixed them together in the greatness of His wisdom and made man with them. And if so, it was nonetheless necessary that this intellect mixed with the physical - and that is man - know his Creator and recognize Him, so as to fulfill the intention of his creation. And if it were not for the Torah that He gave him, the intellect would be completely drawn to the physical in all of its desires, and he would be 'compared in similarity to beasts.' And as such, the work would not be perfected, since the body of a man and the body of a beast would be one in the matter - even if they are not one in their form - and it would come out that there is a lack in the creation. And it comes out according to our words that the giving of the Torah to educate the hearts of men is necessitated for the perfection of the designs. And [perhaps] one might ask further, "Since it is the perfection of the designs, why was it given to one people from the peoples of the world, and not to all of them?" In this also would it be an obvious answer to respond that the intellect of the one designed will not grasp the intention of his Designer. But nonetheless with this too is it possible to find a little reason according to the way of the world: Is it not known that in all the things of the world, the chaff is greater than the core? And even in the core, there is a part of it that is more select in it than the whole. It is as if you would say most of the land in the world is not prime, but rather only its minority. But even in the prime, part of it is the prime of the prime. And so is the matter also with the fruits of the world and with types of beasts and fowl. And, if so, also with the human species shall the thing be like this, to make it similar to the lowly world. Since it shares some of itself with it - as it has a finite body like them - it is no wonder about the thing. And so one part of the human species was chosen - and that is Israel, and it is the 'smallest from all the nations.' And blessed is God who knows that they are the choicest of the human species and chose them to be called His people and gave them all the main parts of wisdom. However even with the rest of the human species, He gave them a way to distinguish themselves from beasts - and that is the seven commandments that all the people of the world were commanded as a whole, as we shall write about each one of them, with God's help. And also with the people of Israel itself - part of them are more choice, and that is the tribe of Levi, which was chosen for His permanent service. And so [too,] is the thing with planet Earth, that there is a part of it that is choicest from all of it and God knew that the choicest in it is the Land of Israel. And [so] His will was to settle the choicest of the Human species in it. Also in it, the best in it was Jerusalem. And so it was chosen to be the dwelling of the Torah and place of his Service. And from it is the entire planet of the earth blessed, as God commanded blessing to be there. And perhaps one would ask further - since I said that the essence of all, and the chosen portion, is the people of Israel - how is the thing that they always suffer exile and troubles? And the answer is that it is well-known and famous among the people of the world that the Master of all created two worlds - the world of bodies and the world of souls. And the world of bodies is considered like nothing and emptiness in contrast to the world of souls. As this one is like a passing shadow, whereas that one remains forever and ever. And the body serves as a vessel for the soul for a short time, and afterwards it decomposes and becomes vile. [Accordingly,] God bequeathed to His people the world of souls, which is the eternal world and the enjoyment of which has no measure. And perhaps one who asks would ask further, "And why did God not give to His people, that He chose, two portions of enjoyment - the world of bodies and the world of souls?" The answer is that it is well-known to every intelligent person that it is impossible for a physical being to be in the world without sinning. And among the fixed traits forever and ever of God, blessed be He, is the trait of justice; and it obligates every intelligent person to go in the way of the intellect and to be liable when he veers [from it]. And once the trait of justice has made him liable, it is impossible for him to be exempted without any [punishment]; since he left the court of the trait of justice [with a] guilty [verdict]. And hence it is from the kindnesses of God to us that He placed our share to have sin purged from us in this finite world, [so that] our souls be clean and survive to the world of souls; as one hour there is better than all of the life in this world. However we should believe that a time will come that we will merit the two portions, and that is the days of the messiah. And the reason is that in those days, we will not need the purging of the bodies at all, since the evil impulse will be nullified from us; as it is written (Ezekiel 36:26), "and I will remove the heart of stone, etc." And also if a little dross of sin remains at that time, it will fall on the goat (sacrificed scapegoat), as at the beginning. And this is what is written in the Torah (Leviticus 26:4), "If you will go in My ways," I will bequeath the good of this world to you - meaning to say, if you will be whole and not require purging of the body, you will also merit the good of this world. And that is what is written about our father, Avraham - peace be upon him - that God blessed him, even with the good of this world. As he did not need purging of the body at all at that time. And after this, there is no [cause] to wonder about the pain of Israel in the exiles more than all of the nations; as it is all for their good and for their glory. And you who asks - place your eyes and your heart to this as it is a big thing that all of the evildoers will not understand, but the intelligent will understand. As many of of the Jews are destitute from the many great troubles that follow [one another against] them in the exiles and they do not know nor understand the good of the world of souls - their 'feet almost strayed' from the many worries, and 'their hearts were not constant with them' from the many ruminations. May God, in His kindnesses, remove thoughts of wickedness and impart upon us proper intellect and correct opinions to fulfill His desire - amen, may He do so. And he may ask further, "Since you said that the essence of all is the world of the souls and the final reward of commandments is in it, why did the Torah not mention it and state, 'When you do My commandments, I will bequeath you the world to come.'" The answer is because the matter of the world to come is well-known and revealed to all intelligent people and clear as the sun. There is no people nor language that do not agree that there is permanence to souls after the termination of the bodies. And there is also no one that disagrees that it is according to the good of the soul, its wisdom and the propriety of its actions, that its enjoyment will be greater. As the source of the intellectual soul from which it is extracted is the Intellect, and anyone that comes closer to its nature - the place of its extraction - will have greater pleasure. These words do not require support with proofs and witnesses - they are their own witnesses and their proofs are basic knowledge. And so the Torah never elaborates about that which is well-known from human logic. And this is [the meaning] of their, may their memory be blessed, saying in every place, "It is logical" - meaning, there is no need for a verse about that which logic reveals. And hence the Torah promised us with the fulfillment of the commandments in this world to say that we not be preoccupied with sustenance and with wars [against] the enemies and that we be able to put efforts into the service of God and fathom His will. And there is no need to elaborate further and to say, "And when you accomplish His will, you will merit the pleasure of the world to come" - since the thing is self-evident that any creature that accomplishes the will of his Creator, may He be elevated, approaches Him and will enjoy from His radiance. And another reason [for this] is that if the Torah had promised about the reward of the world to come and not this one, the promise would not have been seen while [people are still] alive; and the heart of those of little faith may have disturbed [them] with words.
And from the fundamentals of this Torah that we said that God gave to His people through Moshe, His prophet, is to know that the Lord God in the Heavens that gave the Torah to Israel is the First Being - such that there is no beginning nor end to His being, may He be blessed - and that He made exist and created from His will and His power all that was created, ex nihilo. And [likewise] that He keeps in existence everything that He created the whole time that He wishes, but no longer - [not] even an instant. And that He is not prevented from doing anything. And [also from the fundamentals is] to believe that He is one without any conjunction; to believe that in a man fulfilling that which is written in [the Torah], his soul will merit great enjoyment forever; and to believe that God oversees the actions of people and knows all the details of their deeds and repays everyone according to his action. And also from the fundamentals of the Torah is to believe that the true explanation of the Torah is the traditional received explanation that is in our hands from the early Sages of Israel. And anyone who explains about it something that is the opposite of their intention is [expressing] a mistake and a completely void thing. As our Sages received the explanation of the Torah from our teacher, Moshe - peace be upon him - who received it from God, blessed be He, when he stood on the mountain forty days. And even though it was possible to learn [it] in less time than this due to the power of the Teacher, God wanted to hint to the learners that they learn it with deliberation. And this true explanation that we wrote is the explanation that is written in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds (Gemara), which [was] composed [by] our early Sages, who received it one generation after another from our teacher Moshe, peace be upon him. And the Babylonian is lengthier and more elucidated, and [so] we rely upon it more. And it is made up of six orders, and there are sixty tractates in it, according to the division of the contents. Their mnemonic is 'there are sixty queens.' And there are five hundred and twenty-two chapters. And the true explanation of the Torah is likewise elucidated from other books that some of our early Sages composed. And [these books] are called Sifra, Sifrei, Tosefta and Mekhilta. All of these are books that all of Israel believe and [they] rely upon the words of theirs which are there without a disagreement. And about those that there is a disagreement, they have already also explained the ruling that we should take from them. Everything is nicely elucidated without any doubt or confusion to those that understand. And anyone whose heart troubles him about these matters is not included in the holy (Jewish) people - since we would never agree about the truth from the simple understanding of the verses of the Torah without their explanations and their true tradition. As there are several verses in the Torah that appear to contradict one another. But the one who knows their explanation understands and sees that the ways of God are straight: Behold it is written in the Torah (Exodus 12:40), "And the inhabitation of the Children of Israel [which they dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years]." And [yet] we found that Kehat the son of Levi was from those that went down to Egypt; and if you count the days of his life and the years of the life of Amram, his son, and the eighty years of Moshe - as he was eighty in his standing in front of Pharaoh to speak to him to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt - they all only add up to three hundred and fifty years. However the explanation of this is that the tally of four hundred and thirty begins from the time that it was stated to Avraham, "that your seed will be a stranger" (Genesis 15:13). And the explanation of the verse is thus: "And the inhabitation of the Children of Israel which they dwelt in Egypt" and other lands - meaning that they began to be exiled - "was four hundred and thirty years." As from the time that it was stated to Avraham, "that your seed will be a stranger," did the distress begin for him - and [so] the beginning of the tally is from there. And do not let its stating, "the Children of Israel," be difficult for you - as behold they said in the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 63:3), "Avraham is called Israel, as it is stated, 'And the inhabitation of the Children of Israel.'" And that which it states, "the Children of Israel" is meaning to say the Children of Israel and Israel (referring to Avraham); but Scripture expressed it in this language since the distress began to the father with the proclamation of the exile of the children. And that which it is stated, "Egypt," is also not specific, but rather meaning to say in exile. And that which it expressed it all with the [word,] Egypt, is because the core of the exile was there; and everything goes according to the core, and it is always called by it. And so [too,] is it written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 10:22), "With seventy souls did your forefathers go down to Egypt." But when you count their enumeration, you find [only] sixty-nine souls. But rather the explanation (Bava Batra 123b) comes that Yocheved was born 'betwixt the walls' (of Egypt, though she was conceived before they arrived), and [so] was not counted in the enumeration. And likewise, one verse (Exodus 12:15) states, "Seven days shall you eat matsot" and one verse (Deuteronomy 16:8) states, "Six days." And many like this would not be elucidated without the traditional explanation that is in our hands, that was given to us from our teacher, Moshe.
And now, you should know that according to what we have received from our Sages, may their memory be blessed and from their explanations, the tally of commandment that are practiced for [all of] the generations that are included in the Book of the Torah that God gave to us adds up to six hundred and thirteen commandments - between the commandments that it commanded us to do and those that it warned us not to do, as they are all called commandment[s]. And those that it commanded us to do add up to two hundred and forty-eight; and to not do, three hundred and sixty-five. And some of them are [those] that all of Israel are obligated - including males and females - at all times and in every place. And some of them are [those] that only Israelites are obligated in every place and at all times, but not priests and Levites. And some of them are [those] that only Levites alone are obligated; and some of them are [those] that only priests alone are obligated - in every place and at all times. And among the commandments, there are those that a person is obligated to do constantly, such as the commandment of loving God, and fearing Him, and that which is similar to it. And there are some that he is obligated to do at a specific time and not before then - such as the commandment of sukkah (dwelling in a hut), lulav, resting on the holidays, recitation of Shema and all that is similar to them - that have a set time to do them in the year or in the day. And there are some of them that a person is never obligated to do unless he is caused by a matter that comes to his hand that requires that commandment that is fitting for that matter. Such that you can say that giving the wage of a wage-worker in its time is a commandment, while a man is certainly not obligated to hire workers in order to fulfill this commandment. And so [too,] some that are like this - as we shall clarify it all, with God's help, about every commandment that we write. And one of the commandments is the root and principle that all lean upon - and that is Torah study - as through study will a person know the commandments and fulfill them. And hence our Sages, may their memory be blessed, fixed for us to read a portion of the Book of the Torah each and every week in the place of the gathering of people - which is the synagogue - to arouse the heart of a man about the words of the Torah and the commandments, until they finish the whole Book. And according to that which we heard, most of Israel today practices reading it all in one year. And the Sages, may their memory be blessed, further obligated us that every one of Israel read it in his home each and every week in the way that we read it in the place of gathering. And that is [the meaning of] their, may their memory be blessed, saying (Berakhot 8a), "A person should always finish his sections with the community" - so that he understand things better with his reading them at home. And now since the six hundred and thirteen commandments are dispersed in the Book, scattered in it, here and there, in different stories that are written in the Book - for a great principle or for the need that is to be found in it - the reader will perhaps not place his heart in the [weekly reading] to see how many commandments he read that week; and he will not arouse his heart to urge himself about them. Hence I - 'the poorest of my thousand,' a student of the students in my time, a Jew from the House of Levi in Barcelona - saw it good to write the commandments by way of the [weekly] orders and in the order that they are written in the Torah, one after the other. [This is] to arouse the heart of the youth - my son and his friends - each and every week about the tally of the commandments after they study that [reading]. And [this is also in order] to accustom them to [the commandments] and to attach their thoughts to the thought of purity; and to the calculation of the essential, before they put in their hearts, calculations of joking and 'what is it to you,' and of 'what is the point.' And [so] 'even when they age, it will not depart from them.' And my [thought] is to write about each one a hint of the roots of (reason for) the commandment - when it is revealed in Scripture, I will write it as it is; and when it is hidden, I will say what I have heard about it from the mouth of sages and that which I understand about the things. And I do not think and insist to get to the truth regardless - as who 'is a worm and not a man,' like I, who did not see the lights of wisdom all of the days, to raise the hand about that which wizened sages have not grasped. I have not, however, lacked intelligence to know that ants cannot carry the load of camels; and [that] a 'child that does not know to Whom we recite blessings' should not expound about the 'Story of the Chariot,' and the secret of the chasmalim. Except that the greatness of my desire 'to dip the tip of the staff into the honeycomb' of the commandments has pushed me to enter the forest that has no limits, with my awareness that many great ones who entered there brought out [only] charcoals. However I said, "Who will give that my thought be preoccupied with this all of the days - and not be disqualified and not rendered defective by the intrigues 'of travail and sorrow,' like the guilty evildoers - and that I place them 'as a signet ring upon my right hand,' and that I put all of my wellsprings all of the day in their work. I shall make a faithful house in my heart, a strong dwelling. And the rest of all my deeds - eating, drinking and the occupation of men and women - their time is enough for them. Are [the commandments] not all refined and pure - 'every precious stone is their adornment.' And if there sometimes be sediment in that which is written in their explanation, the food should be separated from it for oil, and [sediment] returned to the house of the owners. And let the one who wants to eat with me, 'eat the meat and leave the bones and peels on the table.'" And at the beginning of my words, I mention as a merit for me that which my teachers said, "All chatter is bad, [but] Torah chatter is good." And they, may their memory be blessed, further expounded to strengthen the heart of the learner, "His skipping is love to Me, his stuttering is love to Me" (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:4). And these [readings] of the year in which the commandments are [found] is according to the calculation of the great Rabbi, known for his great wisdom and stature among his people, Rambam - may the memory of the righteous be blessed.
A letter from the author of the Sefer HaChinukh
Perhaps one who delves into this book will think that its author gathered all of its laws in his effort and his good research from the words of the Tannaim (early Talmudic sages) and the Amoraim (later Talmudic sages). And if this were so, it would require that the author be an expert in all of the corners of our Gemara - the Babylonian and the Jerusalem [Talmuds], the Sifra, the Sifri and the Tosefta. Hence he who knows himself and what wisdom he has is fitting to publicize the truth to all who listen to his voice. And he should not make the unblemished craft of God into 'a bow of duplicity' and trickery, as one who is glorified 'by the children of foreigners,' as a weak one that arms himself with 'the shields of the mighty,' as a lowly one among men who crowns himself with the crowns of kings. Behold he calls - from his place he informs and testifies with trustworthy testimony to all readers that the majority of the words of the book are taken from the books of the pillars of the world that are famous in stature and wisdom from all of the nations: Rabbi Yitschak Alfasi (Rif) and Rabbi Moshe bar Maimon (Rambam), they should be remembered for the good. 'The statute of the first-born,' the glory and the greatness in this book is theirs. And [also] upon the 'three fold string' in wisdom, understanding and knowledge is Rabbi Moshe bar Nachman, may his memory be blessed. He composed a very esteemed book about the tally of the commandments besides several, several precious compositions. These are the 'mighty ones from yore' who spent most of their time clarifying the words of the Sages, blessed is their memory. They 'plunged into the powerful waters' and brought up pearls in their hands from the words of the Gemara. And the day that we came to their sanctuary and to the room of their instruction, we found 'a well of living waters,' gardens and orchards, loaves and vessels of cloth' set up there. I said, "With what would it be pleasing to serve in front of the mighty ones, as they have already clarified all the things for us? Would it not be in ordering the six hundred and thirteen commandments according to the [weekly readings]? Perhaps the youths will be more stimulated in them from this; they will put their hearts into them on Shabbat and holidays; and return from going crazy in the plaza of the cities, 'to the light of the living light.' The delicate children will ask, 'one to his neighbor,' 'How many are the commandments of this Shabbat,' and the land will be full of 'knowledge and foresight.' And behold the explanation of each one is arranged in front of them, and without toil will they find pleasing words in their listings. The holy seed will be blessed from God - 'they and their children and all that they have in all of the places of their dwellings.' And I will be included in the blessing with them." And I bring an oath with the ineffable name [of God] upon any transcriber [of this book], that he write this letter at its beginning - and [so] life and peace shall be with him - in order that all will give its splendor and its glory to its bearer and its parent. And may one who corrects any error after concentrated investigation receive his full compensation from the Omnipresent God. And let there be peace upon Israel, amen.
There are commandments that are practiced today and, all counted, they are three hundred and sixty nine. And from these that are practiced, there are some that a person only be obligated in them by a cause. And sometimes the cause will never come to a person all of his days, such that it will come out that he never do [that commandment] - such as the commandment of giving the wage to a wage-worker on its day, and that which is similar to it; as there are people that will never employ a wage-worker [all] their days. And so [too,] from the negative commandments, there are some of them that a person not be obligated without his will, and through the cause of his deeds. And with his avoiding that deed, there will not be any sin to him and nothing will be lacking from him. For example, one who puts out a bad name [on his wife], that he may never divorce his wife - as he caused it to himself to be obligated in this negative commandment, as he is the one who put out a bad name. And so [too,] with the negative commandment of "do not delay" with vows, it is also he who causes it. And one who refrains from vowing will not have a sin. And so, all that is similar to this. And, all counted, they are ninety-nine, from which there are seventy-eight positive commandments and twenty-one negative commandments. But the commandments that every man of Israel is commanded without his creating a cause for it in the world are, all counted, two hundred and seventy. And the mnemonic is "I am sleeping, but my heart is awake (er, the numerical equivalent of its letters being two hundred and seventy). Forty-eight of them are positive commandments and two hundred and twenty-two are negative commandments. And you will find each one in its [weekly reading] in the book. And the obligation with them is not at all times, but rather at specific times of the year or of the day - except for six commandments, the obligation of which is constant. It does not cease from being upon a man even an instant in all of his days. And these are them: 1) to believe in God; 2) to not believe in anything besides Him; 3) to conceive of His oneness; 4) to love Him; 5) to fear Him; and 6) to not wander after the thought of the heart and the vision of the eyes. Their mnemonic is 'six cities of refuge shall there be for you.'
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