Re’eh 5777

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

The Book of Deuteronomy twice rules that people shall do no more or no less than God commands (Deut. 4:2; 13:1). The repetition attests to the seriousness of the matter. Yet the repetition also raises a puzzling question as well. That the text insists that the people do no less than God commands is understandable. God sets the standards and norms and to fail to perform them is tantamount to the rejection of the Supreme Commander. But why not do more than God commands? This would seem to be a demonstration of utmost loyalty and a desire to please!


An instructive anecdote provides an answer. A woman once borrowed a spoon from her neighbor. When she returned the spoon, she added a small spoon along with the borrowed one. When the lender asked why more was returned than what was borrowed, the borrower explained: “You spoon was pregnant when you lent it to me. While it was in my house it gave birth to the small spoon which is therefore yours.” Naturally the lender accepted the “offspring” and had no trouble being convinced to subsequently lend her a neighbor a knife, fork, pots or pans. And each time, the item was returned with a small addition.


One day, the woman who had initially borrowed the spoon, asked the same neighbor to borrow her rare, costly samovar. Of course the neighbor – having been enriched by the borrower’s errant generosity – lent it without hesitation. When weeks and months passed and the samovar was yet to be returned, the neighbor grew concerned. She asked the borrower when she might expect to see her prized possession. “Oh,” said the borrower somewhat surprised at the question, “your samovar died!” “That’s ridiculous!” the lender exclaimed angrily, “who ever heard of a samovar dying?” “Why not?” replied the borrower. “If a spoon can give birth, a samovar can die.”


It is a Talmudic sage named Hezekiah who confirms the lesson of this anecdote (Sanhedrin 29a). He concluded: “he who increases, diminishes.” What he means is that once a person tampers with a closed system – even by addition – the net result is to undermine the integrity of the system itself. Adding obligations is just as subversive as subtracting. Every action – whether addition or subtraction – denies the efficacy of the Torah as is. Each addition, therefore, is the equivalent of rejecting the God who authored the Torah.


While vigorous observance of the commandments is laudable, the artificial addition of what could be termed “new” mitzvoth is a fundamental denial of the integrity of the Torah and the authority of God who gave it.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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