The Gemara (Makkot 23b) states 613 mitzvot were told to Moses, made up from 365 prohibitions which correspond to the number of days in the solar year and 248 positive mitzvot, which corresponds to the number of limbs in the human body.
In Devarim 33:4, we are told: “Moses commanded to us the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (Devarim 33:4).
The word “Torah” has the numerical value of 611, the number of mitzvot that were received and taught by Moses.
There are then two additional mitzvot: “I am the Lord your God” and: “You shall have no other gods” – the first two of the Ten Commandments – that were heard directly from the mouth of God. This brings the total to 613.
The prophet Isaiah quotes God as saying, “I made the earth, and created man upon it.” The numerical value of the word “created” is 613, which not only hints at the purpose of creation, but also links to our Sages who say, “God looked into the Torah and created the world”.
To put it another way, the Torah and its 613 mitzvot comprise the blueprint of the universe.
As a reminder of our manifold obligations, “Tzitzit” – fringes attached to a four-cornered garment – have the numerical value of 600 which together with the eight threads and five sets of knots, makes a total of 613.
As to the reason for so many mitzvot, the Gemara teaches that God wants us to merit His reward.
Therefore, God gave us a significant amount of Torah and mitzvot in order that we have the greatest potential to be deserving of His goodness.
If we had only one mitzvah, as Adam, the first man did, and fail to keep it, then it means we have lost our only opportunity for reward.
With a multiplicity of mitzvot before us, our chances of being successful are greatly increased.
It is this large number that highlights God’s kindness toward us.
- Rabbi Alex Chapper serves Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogue and is the Children’s Rabbi, childrensrabbi.com
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