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Rabbi Zorach Meir Salasnik

Do We Have 10 Commandments or 613 Commandments?

Rabbi Meir Salasnik of Bushey & District United Synagogue answers this question and has provided the transliteration below.

Hello. I am Meir Salasnik, the Rabbi of Bushey United Synagogue.

I have been asked to speak to you today about whether we have 10 commandments or 613 commandments.

There are 613 mitzvot – commandments in the Torah. We have had a tradition of there being 613 commandments for thousands of years – at least from Talmudic times, although there are variant opinions as to exactly which commandments fit in to the number of 613.

The Sefer HaChinuch, written about 800 years ago lists and explains all 613, basing itself on the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Maimonides’s system of counting.

The Aseret HaDibrot – literally the 10 Statements, the so-called 10 Commandments actually account for 14 of the 613 commandments – 14 not 10, since the statement about not worshipping idols includes 4 separate commandments - not to worship other gods, not to make images of them, not to bow down to them and not to serve them, while the statement about keeping Shabbat includes 2 separate commandments – one to keep Shabbat holy and the other not to work on it.

These 14 commandments, expressed in 10 statements, are deemed to hint at the other 599. Thus, the command not to kill connects to other commandments about protecting human life, while the commandments about Shabbat link to the commandments about Yom Tov.

Most of the 613 are applicable only when we have a Temple, but even in the absence of our Temple, by learning about them, we are fulfilling them as best as we can.

The 613 commandments include 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. The 248 ‘dos’ connect to the number of bones and organs in our body, while the 365 ‘do nots’ relate to the number of days in a solar year. In keeping G-d’s Torah, we involve every part of our being on every day of the year.

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