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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parashat Re’eh – 55 Mitzvot – but who’s counting? (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on August 1, 2010

Except for Sefer Breshit, in which there are few of the 613 mitzvot, I always like to start studying the Parshah by reviewing the mitzvot that are associated with it according to Sefer HaHinuch – the Book of Education.  Once I’ve look at the list, I like to ask some questions:

  • How many of these mitzvot apply to our time and place?
  • How many apply to both men and women?
  • How many can only be observed in Israel?
  • How many might require ‘adjustment’ because of changed sensibilities?

The list in Parshat Re’eh is:

#436:  to destroy an idol and all that serves it

#437: not to erase holy writings, the written name of the Kadosh Baruch Hu, or the Temple

#438: to bring all obligatory or voluntary offerings at the next pilgrimage festival

#439: not to sacrifice holy offerings outside the Temple

#440: to sacrifice all offerings at the Temple, an not anywhere outside of it

#441: to redeem animals consecrated for offerings which have subsequently become blemished

#442: not to eat the second tithe of grain outside Jerusalem

#443: not to consume the second tithe of wine outside Jerusalem

#444: not to consume the second tithe of oil outside Jerusalem

#445: not to eat an unblemished firstborn animal outside Jerusalem

#446: not to eat a hattat or asham offering outside the Temple

#447: not to eat the flesh of an olah (burnt offering)

#448: not to eat offerings of lesser holiness before their blood is sprinkled on the altar

#449: kohanim should not eat bikkurim until they are set down on the Temple grounds

#450: not to neglect the Levites by failing to give them their gifts

#451: to observe shihitah (ritual slaying)

#452: not to eat a limb torn from a living animal

#453: to attend to bringing an animal offering from another land to the Temple

#454: not to add to the precepts of the Torah in any way

#455: not to diminish the precepts of the Torah in any way

#456: to ignore anyone prophesying in the name of an idol – or idolatry

#457: to have no affection for an enticer to idolatry

#458: not to relinquish hatred for an enticer to idolatry

#459: not to rescue from death an enticer to idol-worship
#460: that someone enticed to idolatry should not speak in favor of the enticer

#461: that someone enticed to idolatry should not refrain from speaking out against the enticer

#462: not to entice an Israelite toward idol-worship

#463: to examine witnesses thoroughly and completely

#464: to burn a city gone astray into idolatry

#465: not to rebuild to its former condition a city gone astray into idolatry

#466: to derive no benefit from the wealth of a city gone astray into idolatry

#467: not to gash oneself as idol-worshippers do

#468: not to cause baldness, tearing the hair in grief over the dead

#469: not to eat holy animal offerings that became disqualified

#470: to examine the marks of a fowl to see if it may be eaten

#471: to eat no unclean, non-kosher locusts, nor any winged insects

#472: not to eat the flesh of any kosher animal that died of itself

#473: to observe the second tithe

#474: to tithe for the poor in the second and sixty years of the seven year cycle

#475: not to demand payment for a loan after the shmitah year has passed

#476: to exact a loan rigorously from a heathen

#477: to relinquish debts in the shmitah year

#478: not to refrain from sustaining a poor person and providing what is needed

#479: the mitzvah of tzedakah

#480: not to avoid lending money to the poor because of the onset of the shmitah year

#481: not send away empty handed a hebrew manservant when he goes free

#482: to give a bonus to a hebrew manservant as his discharge

#483: to do no work with animals that have been consecrated for offerings

#484: not to shear animals consecrated for offerings

#485: not to eat hametz after noon the day before pesach

#486: not to leave over to the third day any meat of the pesach offering at pesach

#487: not to offer the pesach offering on an individual’s altar

#488: to be happy on the pilgrimage festivals

#489: to appear on the pilgrimage festivals at the Temple

#490: not to go on the pilgrimage festival without an animal offering

And there you have it, fifty five mitzvot, primarily about idol worship and Temple sacrifices. These are not mitzvot that sit easily in the progressive mind. The Temple is no more, and although some prayerbooks call for its restoration, I doubt that I have ever davened with anyone who really wants to see sacrificial rites restored. The mitzvot about idolatry, in their pshat form, pose difficult questions living in a time when more, not less tolerance, for the religions of other people is so desperately needed.

Here and there we see a mitzvah that we can easily and eagerly embrace, especially those mandating tzedakah. We also see a mitzvah that has – in the past couple of decades – been caught up in political fights in Europe, and most recently, New Zealand, where prohibitions against ritual slaughter have been enacted into law under the guise of prohibiting cruelty to or maltreatment of animals in the moments before they are killed for food.

Much to ponder, much to wrestle with.

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