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Rambam - Sefer HaMitzvos
As Divided for The Daily Learning Schedule

Rambam's Introduction to the SEFER HAMITZVOT
Principles 1 - 3
(from the Study Schedule prepared by Sichos in English)

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In his introduction to Sefer Hamitzvot, the Rambam explains what led him to compose this work.

Having first produced his famous Commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam then wanted to write a comprehensive Halachic text. This is his MISHNE TORAH, or YAD HACHAZAKA. In order to insure that this work be complete and cover all 613 Mitzvot, he wanted to first list all these Mitzvot at the beginning.

However, he was unable to find a list of the 613 Mitzvot he was satisfied with.

The Talmud, although it states clearly that there are 613 Mitzvot, does not list precisely which count as Mitzvot and which do not.

Those commentaries who did list the Mitzvot often disagree and are inconsistent, according to the Rambam, in principles they use in determining which laws count in the total of 613.

He concludes,

"Therefore I saw it fitting to precede this book I mentioned (i.e. Mishneh Torah) with another work, namely this book, in which I will give the correct list of the Mitzvot and explain the proper way to count them.

I will therefore bring proofs from verses of the Torah and from the explanations of the Sages on them. I'll first give the Principles which should be relied upon in listing the Mitzvot."

When by using this work, the total comes out correct, clearly proven and without any doubts, the reader will be able to detect the errors of all who use a method other than this to count the Mitzvot.

It will be unnecessary for me to answer individuals or clarify their errors, for the benefit and goal of this work can be reached by those who seek it without this individual correspondence. For I shall explain all of the Mitzvot and list them individually, bring proof in any case of doubt or where there is the possibility that someone without deep knowledge of Torah could err. I will eliminate his error and explain all his doubts.

However, this work's goal is not to give details of any Mitzvah, but just to enumerate them. If I do explain some laws when mentioning the Mitzvah, it will merely be to explain its name, to know what the Mitzvah or prohibition is, and why it was given this name.

After we know the proper enumeration of Mitzvot according to the proofs in this work, then I will list them briefly at the beginning of the general book (i.e. Mishneh Torah) that we have mentioned."


The Rambam continues:

"And now I will begin to discuss the Principles, totaling fourteen, to be relied upon in enumerating the Mitzvot.

However, I should first mention that the total number of Mitzvot commanded to us by G-d in the Sefer Torah are 613.

There are 248 Positive commandments, like the number of limbs in the human body; and 365 prohibitions, like the days in the solar year.

This count is mentioned in the Talmud in the end of Tractate Makot (23b) where our Sages said: "613 commandments were said to Moshe on Mount Sinai; 365 corresponding to the days in the solar year, and 248, corresponding to a person's limbs.

Our Sages also said (Tanchuma Ki Tezte) a drash on the similarity between the Mitzvot and the number of limbs, that it is as if each limb tells the person, "Do a Mitzvah with me!"; and on the similarity of the prohibitions and the days of the year, that it is as if each day tells the person, "Don't do any prohibition on my day!"

Not a single commentary who lists the Mitzvot has erred in this enumeration of the 613 and the division of 248+365. They were totally mistaken however in what goes into the list, as I will explain in this work. The reason for this error was because they did not know the 14 Principles that I will now explain."

The 1st Principle

Do not count Rabbinic Commandments in this list.

The 2nd Principle

Do not include laws which are derived from one of the 13 principles of Torah interpretation (of Rabbi Yishmael, listed in daily prayers) or from a Ribui - (an extra word, letter etc. in a Scriptural verse.)

The 3rd Principle

Do not count Mitzvot which are not binding on all generations.

Each generation has its role in history.

From all the generations before us we have inherited a wealth of dreams: philosophy, truths, wisdom and purpose. We are tiny midgets standing on the shoulders of their ideas and their noble deeds. Our generation's mandate -- and destiny -- is to make the dream real.

From: Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Tzvi Freeman -

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