In Yiddish, they’re called mitzves, and tradition says that there are 613 of them: 248 “thou shalts” and 365 “thou shalt nots”, one for every day of the year. The Jewish calendar follows the moon instead of the sun, though, and has only 354 days – a single Jewish year isn’t long enough to hold all the things we’re not supposed to do.
These mitzves are the foundations of every aspect of Jewish life; in a very real sense, they are Judaism. You can be as monotheistic as you like, without the mitzves you’re still not Jewish. It’s the mitzves that forbid pork, enjoin circumcision, and keep us out of the Knights of Columbus; they are the root of Jewish difference, of everything that makes Jews Jewish. According to Rashi, whose commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are an integral part of traditional methods of study, ‘the whole point of the Torah is its mitzvot.’
-Michael Wex, Born To Kvetch
In this coming year of 5772 all of us members of our kehillah kedoshah Shir Tikvah are going to be invited to think more deeply, and more broadly, about mitzvot than perhaps you ever have before.
You’ll be offered the chance to link to a website that will send you the explanation of a mitzvah every day – all 613 of them!
Nearly every week we will send out a special email teaching called “Three Mitzvot” (once in a while it will be a different number, for reasons that will be obvious).
Shabbat carries with it a special category of mitzvot: Torah study, prayer and personal reflection, and acts that strengthen our kehillah. There is also a category of prohibited work, since Shabbat is meant for rest. Every 2nd erev Shabbat of the month this year will be devoted to your deeper understanding of Shabbat mitzvot and prohibitions, and how both categories can enhance your spiritual growth as a Jew.
Every Jewish holiday and commemoration observance is more meaningful if you know the mitzvot that make them live. We’ll approach each special day in our Jewish year with an offering of learning opportunities to deepen your potential understanding and spiritual growth.
For your further consideration:
For children: Mitzvah Girl
For bar/bat mitzvah preparation: Mitzvah Magic: what you can do to change the world
For mourners: Mourning and Mitzvah
Classical Understandings of Mitzvot and Their Reasons–My Jewish Learning