Adding to the Torah


Pasuk says this week that can't add or subtract from the Torah. My daughter, Elisheva wanted to know how the rabbanim can add rabbanic enactments (all the non doraisa commands). I didn't have a great answer.




Shalom Elisheva,

Very good question.

The pasuk in Va'eschanan 4:2 Do not add or subtract from the word that I am commanding you. You must keep all the commandments of Hashem which I am instructing you. It seems to me that is how you translated this verse for Elisheva. It sounds like you must keep everything, you cannot miss one or even add another. Then Elisheva asks, wait a minute there are many mitzvos that the chachomim added. isn't that a violation of this pasuk? The answer to this requires an analysis of enactments of chachomim to understand them better and also requires an analysis of the chumash to get the most accurate translation of the words in the chumash. We will see that there is an alternative, more accurate translation of the verse.

There are 4 types of takonas chazal.

The interpretations of chazal to the chumash. Here they define for us what it is that Hashem meant. These are referred to as divrei sofrim. New laws that the chachomim introduced but find a source for in the Torah. These are clearly new enactments that are not interpretations, but the asmachta source indicates that the chachomim believe that Hashem is interested in them legislating these laws when they feel the time is ripe. Often chazal will enact laws in order to safeguard the Torah laws. Gezeiros. Muktza for example is a gezaira to avoid carrying on Shabbos. Sometimes chazal create laws unrelated to the existing Torah laws. Like Chanuka & Purim. There isn't any verse that is being interpreted, there isn't any Torah law that is being safeguarded and there isn't any asmachta of source from the Torah prodding the chachomim to consider enacting the new law. Elisheva's question is appropriate for class 2,3 & 4. Class 1 is interpretation of the text. They are not adding anything.

Actually on this very verse we find an example of class one. In the sifri, (chazal on chumash) this verse is interpreted. Rashi quotes the sifri. Don't add to the mitzvos; for example, use only 4 sections to the tefillin on the head, not 5. Don't include 5 species with the mitzva of lulav, use only 4. Don't place 5 sets of strings on a garment with 5 corners, place only 4. And the same goes for cutting down on the mitzva, don't use 3 of the above only 4. This is the interpretation of chazal to this pasuk.

They translated it differently than you did. They are saying, when you are fulfilling my mitzva i want you to do it exactly the way I told you to do it, don't modify the mitzva by adding or subtracting to it. You translated it as; I have given you over six hundred mitzvas, I want you to keep them all, don't miss out on any and don't add new ones. (Notice, we need to parallel the concept of adding and subtracting and keep them in one context. It wouldn't make sense to translate subtracting as Rashi does and the prohibition of adding as you did) Why didn't chazal translate the pasuk as you did? They must have analyzed the verse and found your translation problematic.

In your translation, do not subtract means don't violate or avoid fulfilling. Make sure that you keep every last one. This is something that has already been said a number of times. (See Vayikra 26:14,Devarim 8:1, 11:8:22, 15:5, 27:1 and more) Furthermore, the Hebrew words Lo sigreu mean do not diminish or subtract. According to your interpretation, it means do not omit. That would be a different Hebrew word. It should say something like, lo simna milekayem. So chazal understood the verse to mean when performing a mitzva don't add to the mitzva or subtract from the way it was meant to be kept. The prohibition includes even an inadvertent change to the mitzva, such as placing 5 sets of strings on the 5 corners of a garment. Sometimes it is dependant upon the intention of the person. The Gemara says that a person who continues to sleep in the Succa after the 7 days is not in violation of this verse since he has completed the Holiday and enjoys the outside air. Unless he stayed there in order to keep the mitzvah of the Torah longer than the 7 days mentioned in the Torah, then he will have violated this verse. Interestingly, it is worse to fulfill a mitzva in a modified fashion than it is not to keep it at all! If one modifies a mitzva he violates this verse, a lo sa'ase, if one fails to perform it, one is mevatel the mitzva. We now understand that the verse isn't directly saying not to add a new mitzva. Technically that answers Elisheva's question.

However, even with the new interpretation of chazal, the message still is don't add to my Torah. Like in the case of adding an eighth day of Succos. So why aren't class 4 derabonan's prohibited? The answer is that we are not to make a mitzva to be on par to the mitzvos of the Torah. Hashem said 7 days of Succos let's double it! 14 days! That's wrong. However the Chanuka wasn't instituted to be on par with the Torah, it is meant to remind us of an historical event. Every derabonan, class 2 & 3 above also are not meant to be equivalent to the Torah law. They have a different status. We are prohibited from acting like Hashem in creating mitzvos that are on the same level as his. Class 3 in particular is easily excluded from the question since they protect and guard the Torah laws, they can be viewed as by-laws or corollaries of the Torah laws. The eye is an important organ. If I create an eyelid to protect it, although it is a new body part, but it becomes a part of the entire eye structure and does not need to be viewed independently. So too with class 3 derabonan.

I hope this answers your questions and raises some new ones.

All the best,


BookID: 9 Chapter: 4

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