Why Six Hundred And Thirteen Concepts Not Mitzvot
A number of people have asked me why I refer to the Mitzvot as the Six Hundred and Thirteen Concepts, rather than Mitzvot. I am taking the liberty of posting a transcribed and unedited comment from a series called Six Hundred and Thirteen Concepts:
There are two basic principles and motivations for this class. One of them is like this, that although many people have written books on “ta’amei hamitzvoth,” which translates literally as the reasons of the mitzvoth, we don’t believe for a second that we can fully comprehend the reason for any mitzvah, because any mitzvah that is given from an infinite mind is going to have infinite implications and lessons that we couldn’t possibly begin to fully understand, because we’re all finite and our minds are limited to their experience and to their training.
So therefore, whenever we discuss the “ta’amei hamitzvoth,” really what we’re looking for is the lessons we can learn from these mitzvoth, hence, the title of this class, 613 Concepts. We’re attempting to distill concepts from each one of the mitzvoth that we can use in practical ways.
Now, the other point we said, is that there someone who, in this person’s service of God, is described as a Hassid, and a Hassid not referring to Lubavich or Satmar, but referring to someone who is extra pious, and the Gemara’s definition of a Hassid is “one who goes lifnim mishurat hadin.” Now, “lifnim mishurat hadin” is usually understood, or more appropriately misunderstood, s being that you’re stricter than everything else. But “lifnim” doesn’t mean “beyond”; “lifnim” means “inside,” “within.”
Therefore, I’m convinced that the translation of “lifnim mishurat hadin” is that if I can take one mitzvah, and distill a concept from that mitzvah, and then apply that concept to other areas, so I begin to bring other parts of my life into the context of this one mitzvah, so Shabbat has something to tell me about the way I work during the week, and Shabbat has something to tell me about the way I eat, and T’fillin has something to teach me about how to keep Shabbat, that’s “lifnim mishurat hadin.” Because I don’t simply look at mitzvoth as obligations that I have to fulfill, but rather I look at mitzvoth as teachers and guides to how to look at life, and look at other mitzvoth, and look towards self-development. So, again, that’ why we named the class 613 Concepts