Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Parshat Re`eh: Don't Add Nor Subtract: Mitzvot or Avodah?

Parshat Re`eh contains the prohibitions of bal tosif and bal tigra, not adding and not subtracting from the mitzvot. The specific verse is 13:1, or perhaps 12:32. And therein lies the issue. The verse states, "et kol hadavasr asher anochi metzaveh etchem, oto tishmeru la'asot; lo tosef alav velo tigra mimenu." "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."

This is taken by Chazal to refer to mitzvot. Rashi cites the Sifrei that bal tosif means includes a prohibition to add to the particulars of mitzvot. That is, 5 chapters in tefillin rather than 4, 5 species for lulav rather than 4, 4 blessings in the priestly blessing (birchat kohanim) rather than 3.

That is not an entirely accurate Rashi, at least if Sifrei is his source. For, the Sifrei takes lo tosif alav to mean not to add to the number of tzitzit or to the species in the lulav bundle, and lo tigra to mean not to deduct from their number. However, birchat kohanim is derived from earlier in the pasuk, "kol hadavar," that even a "davar" you should not "tosif alav."

If you look at context, though, the subject does not seem to be mitzvot. This is a difference between pshat and drash. Pshat is literal, and is based on context. Drash is hyper-literal, and pays attention to the specific import of specific words used in the verse, ignoring context.

The context is how we should not adopt the methods of worship of the Canaanites. Verse 12:2 states "Ye shall surely destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree." And verse 12:3 states "And ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods; and ye shall destroy their name out of that place."

Thus, we are to destroy their places and items of idol worship. Verse 4 says that you should not do so to Hashem, which either means not to use these forms of worship, or not to worship in disparate locations but in the one central place mentioned in verse 5. (It does NOT mean that one should not destroy the places of Hashem. So much is obvious and would not need to be said.)

Then, the psukim say how we should serve Hashem when we are settled securely in Eretz Yisrael and the Bet Hamikdash is built.

Verses 29-31 states that when we conquer Eretz Yisrael, "take heed to thyself that thou be not ensnared to follow them, after that they are destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying: 'How used these nations to serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.' Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God; for every abomination to the LORD, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods."

This is the same instruction as before, except more explicit. Do not look to other nations' worship. The same instruction as before, not to do the same to Hashem, that is, the mode of worship. Why? Because their mode of worship is abominable to Hashem, and that is why He did not command us to do it.

Now we turn to the all-important next pasuk. To reiterate the pasuk, "All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."

In context, the pasuk is saying that Hashem commanded us the type of worship He wants. You should not seek to change it, to either add to it from things you see other nations doing, nor delete anything from the worship. Hashem has told us exactly what He wants.

The connection of this pasuk is made in two ways. The Jewish separation, in the form of a ptucha, follows this pasuk, which means that it closes the previous section. As such, it should mean, in pshat, the forms of worship and not mitzvot in general. (The next discussion is a false prophet, and, as perhaps I shall show later, one could argue that it could be attached to the next section.) Similarly, in the King James Bible, they make this verse the 32nd and the 12th perek, to show it closes the discussion. However, in our printings of Chumash, and in JPS's translation, it is the 1st pasuk of the 13 perek. Prakim were imposed by the Christians, so it is not clear who is responsible for the 1 pasuk shift and what it was originally, but the intent, and effect, of placing it in a new perek is to divorce it from the context of worship and make it refer in general to mitzvot in general, and perhaps with specific implication to the section that follows, that of the false prophet.

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