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From the Daf – Is It Possible to Fulfill All 613 Mitzvos?

by Chaim Weber

Of course, we aren’t able to fulfill many of the 613 mitzvos nowadays. We don’t have a beis hamikdash. We don’t have the Sanhedrin.  But in theory, is there an opportunity for one person to fulfill all 613 mitzvos?

At first glance, it seems impossible, as many mitzvos can only be performed by certain people:

  • Many mitzvos can only be performed by Kohanim
  • Some can only be performed by the kohen gadol (not marrying a widow, performing the Yom Kippur service)
  • Some can only be performed by the king (not having too many wives; not owning too many horses; owning an extra sefer torah)
  • Some can only be performed by men (time-bound mitzvos)
  • Some can only be performed by women (the obligation for a zavah or yoledes to bring sacrifices)
  • Some are commandments upon the community as a whole (building a beis hamikdash, appointing a king)

But among the mitzvos equally applicable to all members of the Jewish people, does one have the opportunity to perform them all?

Consider the following:

There are 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments.

Among these negative commandments, some are a lav hanitak l’aseh – a negative commandment attached to another positive commandment.

For example, someone who steals violates a negative commandment. What follows is a positive commandment on the thief to return the stolen item. Rashi (Makkos 4b) explains that by a lav hanitak l’aseh, the positive commandment acts as an atonement for the previously violated negative commandment.

But herein lies the issue: If someone was careful not to transgress the prohibition against stealing, is there an opportunity to ever fulfill the positive commandment of returning a stolen item?

The First Way – The Inheritor

The Gemara in Bava Kamma (104b and 67a) states that if a thief passed away, his children are liable to pay back the principle and were it not for a specific exclusion, they would have been potentially liable to pay an additional fifth if they falsely denied the claim (the penalty for falsely swearing in denial).

Why? They didn’t steal!

R’ Shach zt”l, in his notes at the end of Avi Ezri, explains that a thief passes on the rights and responsibilities to the stolen item to his children.

Based on this, it would appear that although a thief’s inheritors didn’t steal, they have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of returning the stolen item. Sure enough, the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 130) says clearly that the mitzvah applies to one who inherits a stolen item, thus allowing them to have kept both of these mitzvos.

That said, there are many other cases of lav hanitak la’aseh – they all need to be explored to see if their positive commandments can be fulfilled without previously violating a negative commandment.

The Second Way – Coercion

Another way one can fulfill a positive mitzvah without violating the attached negative commandment is if one was coerced to perform the negative commandment.

While the simple understanding of coercion is that it exempts the violator from punishment, R’ Elchanan Wasserman zt”l suggests further (Kesubos 5) that someone who is coerced to perform a prohibition is not considered to have performed the prohibition at all.


The Question of the Mabit


All that said, the fact stands that it’s impossible for one individual to perform all 613 mitzvos.

Based on this, the Mabit raises an interesting question in his introduction to his commentary on the Rambam, Kiryat Sefer.

When Yaakov returned to eretz yisrael to face Esav, he famously said: Im lavan garti, taryag mitzvos shamarti – though I dwelled with Lavan, I kept the 613 mitzvos.

The Mabit asks: how could Yaakov have fulfilled all 613 mitzvos? As we’ve established, it’s impossible for one person to fulfill all 613 mitzvos!

Furthermore, the Mabit quotes a Medrash saying that the 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 limbs in a person’s body – and that each limb tells a person “perform a mitzvah with me.” This implies that every person does have the capacity to perform all of the mitzvos!

One Approach of the Mabit – Learning

The Gemara (Menachos 110a) says that when we learn about the halachos of korbanos, it’s considered as if we brought them.

The Mabit learns from here a general idea that whenever we learn about a mitzvah with the mindset of accepting the mitzvah upon oneself, it’s considered as if we performed the mitzvah. Therefore, although it’s impossible for one person to perform all of the mitzvos, one can learn about the mitzvos and that’s considered as if one fulfilled them.

However, Rashi appears to disagree with this.

Firstly, Rashi on the Gemara in Menachos implies that this concept applies exclusively to areas of atonement – that although we don’t have the capacity to bring korbanos to atone for our sins, we can still achieve atonement by studying the laws of korbanos.

Rashi in Bava Metzia (114b) makes this clearer. The Gemara there tells the story of Rabbah bar Avahu, who due to limited time, prioritized learning four of the six sedarim of mishnayos.

Rashi explains that he prioritized the sedarim containing halachos that apply nowadays, excluding Zeraim and Taharos. Why isn’t Kodshim excluded as well?

Rashi answers based on the Gemara in Menachos that we can fulfill the mitzvos of Kodshim nowadays, as learning about korbanos deems the korbanos as if they had been brought. Clearly, Rashi is limiting this concept to the realm of Kodshim!

Thus, according to Rashi, the question of the Mabit returns: How can Yaakov Avinu and the Medrash imply that we have the power to fulfill all 613 mitzvos?

The Mabit’s Other Approach – Arvus

The Mabit presents another approach.

He notes that kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh – all members of the Jewish people are responsible for each other.

Although one person may not be able to do all the mitzvos, he can help others fulfill their own mitzvos and caution others not to violate negative prohibitions. Through this, we can all be considered as if we personally fulfilled the 613 mitzvos.

At this time of war for klal yisrael, we are all trying to do the mitzvos that we can do. Some of us are learning. All of us are davening. Some are doing chessed. Some are trying to make shidduchim. And some are fighting on the front lines, fulfilling the sacred duty of lo sa’amod al dam re’echa.

Hopefully Hashem sees all of our combined efforts and will send geulos and yeshuos.

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