A Perfect Law

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s parsha, Vaetchanan, Moshe continues to exhort the Jews to remain faithful to Hashem in the land.  Their success and longevity in Eretz Yisrael was dependent on the type of society they would establish.  Their chief mission was to be faithful to the Torah and observe it in an intelligent and conscientious manner.  Moshe strongly warned them to adhere to the Torah as Hashem gave it and not to institute changes.  Thus he admonished them not to add to or subtract from the commandments.  Explaining the seriousness of this injunction the Sforno says, “adding or subtracting even an iota will lead to total corruption.”  It is interesting to note that no distinction is made between adding and subtracting.  Both are regarded as equally disastrous.  However, the matter is not so simple.  We can understand why reducing the commandments is so harmful.  The motive of the person doing it is to liberate himself from the “yolk of the mitzvot.”  His objective is to gain more personal freedom to indulge his impulses and live as he sees fit.  He regards the regulations of the Torah as a burden which conflicts with his desires and thus seeks to make alterations.  While at the outset the change may seem minimal the danger is that he has embarked on a slippery slope.  The evil inclination is never satisfied.  The more one gives in to it the more demanding it becomes.  If one negates a mitzvah because he regards it as too burdensome it won’t be long until he comes to feel the same way about many others until he hardly keeps any at all.

However, the Torah also warns us not to add to the mitzvot.  At first glance the desire to increase observances does not seem to be so bad.  It would appear to reflect a positive attitude toward mitzvot.  He loves them so much that he can’t get enough.  He desires to serve Hashem even more by increasing his obligations.  Why is the phenomenon of adding to the mitzvot so sinful?

In Psalm Nineteen which we recite on Shabbat morning, David declares, “Hashem’s Torah is perfect refreshing the soul…The L—d’s precepts are just gladdening the heart…the L--d’s judgments are true, altogether righteous.”  The basic idea is that the Torah is a work of perfection which if properly observed will lead mankind to its ultimate fulfillment.  As such we must guard and study it and conform to its requirements.  One who seeks to change the Torah fails to appreciate its greatness.  Rather he is guided by his own sense of right and wrong.  He feels that it is too cumbersome or too lenient.  His desire is to fashion a religion which conforms to his personal moral inclinations.  However he is deviating from the recognition that the Torah is a Divine Creation which cannot be improved.  A fundamental tenet of Judaism is that of Torah Misinai.  This means we acknowledge the Divine character of Torah and that it expresses the infinite wisdom of Hashem.  We must put our emotions aside and submit to the will of Hashem and be instructed by His wisdom.  We must be humble and resolve never to tamper with our perfect Torah but to be filled with awe as we approach it.

Shabbat Shalom