613 Do’s and Don’ts

Get your SKINNY on in less time than it takes the barista at Philz to brew your half-caff, half-Tesora, half-decaf Sumatra.


(the pitch)

The chronology of the 10 Commandments story is funky. Several passages in the Torah refer to Moses huffing it up to Mt. Sinai and then hiking down and then up again to get the list of 10 from Mr. Big. (Catch up on the first huff.) What’s more: each passage can appear oblivious to the ones that come before it. Really smart biblical commentators explain that there’s actually no chronology to the Torah. (Not helpful, we think.) Savvy SKINNIES know that sometimes the Torah chapters read like a gripping novel and other sections are repetitive or contain a confusing timeline, sort of like an app in beta gone south. This week, we’ve got repetitive story and chaotic chronology. The Torah passage this week is called Mishpatim (me-sh-pah-team), which means: laws because it serves up a lot of Do’s and Don'ts and abruptly ends with Moses hightailing it up Mt. Sinai (yet again). He was gone for 40 days and nights – just like Noah during the flood. After all that mountain climbing, we suspect Moses got SKINNY


(the over think)

Brace yourself dearest SKINNIES: In addition to the 10 Commandments, the Talmud (tall-mood) – a collection of ancient Jewish laws and customs – says there are actually a whopping 613 mitzvot (meets-vote) – commandments or laws. (It’s no wonder so many Jews are recovering lawyers!) This week, the Torah details 53 of the commanded Do’s and Don'ts that include criminal and civil codes, ethics, farming, and food. The legal highlights: (We trust you can surmise which ones are the Do’s and which are the Don'ts.)
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The punishment for murder and kidnapping is the death penalty. It’s also the punishment for hitting or cursing at your parents. (Don’t get us started on that one!)
MISBEHAVING ANIMALS: If your ox goes wild and hurts somebody, you’re not responsible unless your ox has done it before. Then you should’ve known better. We suspect the same is true for your Labradoodle.
OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF: If you borrow someone’s stuff and something happens to it, you need to replace it. Unless it gets stolen, and then it’s not your fault.
MONEY LENDING: When you lend money to someone, you’re not supposed to charge interest. (Ancient sages found legitimate loopholes to get us out of this one. Jewish bankers are forever grateful.)
JUDGMENT: Never testify falsely against somebody and don’t accept bribes for anything. Ever.
BE NICE: It’s a good rule, in general. Be extra nice to foreigners, widows, and orphans.
FARMING: You can be Farmer in the Dell for 6 years, but then you gotta give the land some R&R in year 7 and also every Shabbat - the 7th day of the week. (Powerball anyone?

M&M: (Vegan and Vegetarian SKINNIES can skip this section.) Keep milk and meat separate in your kitchen and in your mouth. (Don’t go on a diet, SKINNIES. We promise to serve up a lovely kosher-style SKINNY to explain it all very soon.)


(to be in-the-know)

While the Talmud tells us there are 613 Commandments, it doesn’t give us the full list. Ancient Jewish sages filled in the gaps, but like the joke: “Put 2 Jews in a room and you’ll get 3 opinions…” the smarty-sages couldn’t agree on them. There wasn’t disagreement on whether any particular commandment was actually a commandment or not, but whether it was counted on its own or part of another one. Rambam (rahm-bahm) got the last word on the issue. Rambam (1135-1204) got his name from the acronym RaMBaM for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. He’s also known by the Latinized name: Maimonides. He was one of the most prominent medieval Jewish theologians and philosophers and had considerable influence on Jewish thought and law. Rambam’s list of the 613 is considered the definitive maxim. Click here to read ‘em all.
We can’t perform many of the 613 mitzvot anymore. Some relate to sacrifices and offerings to God that can only be made in the Temple in Jerusalem, which no longer stands. Others relate to a theocratic form of government in Israel that doesn’t exist in today’s democratic state. And still others refer to agricultural laws that only apply in Israel, like the Farmer in the Dell mitzvah (meets-vah; commandment – singular form of mitzvot) mentioned above. Of the 613 commandments, 248 are positive commandments (Do’s) and 365 are negative commandments (Don’ts). The 248 positive mitzvot are things like: DO honor your mother and father. The 365 negative mitzvot are things like: DON’T murder. Dividing the 613 mitzvot into 248 Do’s and 365 Don’ts has both anatomical and astrological significance. Anatomically: Ancient sages taught that the human body has 248 bones and 365 sinews. (Smart SKINNIES know that modern medicine counts 206 bones in the human body. Don’t fret: our ancestors weren’t dummies. They included some other body parts in the count to get to 248.) Astrologically: Early astrologists counted a 248-day cycle of the moon and there are 365 days in the year.


(bookmark. reflect. share.)

While people often refer to doing a good deed as a mitzvah, the word mitzvah literally means: commandment. But, referring to good deeds as a mitzvah isn’t a made-up modern use of the word. The Talmud commonly refers to charitable acts as a mitzvah. So, it’s both a commandment and a good deed. The word mitzvah appears nearly 300 times in the Torah, which leads Team SKINNY to think it must be really important. Kabbalah (ka-bah-lah) – Jewish mystical interpretation – teaches that mitzvot repair the world. When we do a mitzvah we’re actually healing the cosmos and returning them to their intended harmonious state. Doing a mitzvah also makes us feel good. Attentive SKINNY readers know from the Doing-Good and Good-Doing SKINNY that the more we do mitzvot, the more we feel good, and the more we feel good, the more we do them. The Mishneh (me-sh-neh) Torah – a code of Jewish religious law authored by Rambam – opined that the ultimate reward of a mitzvah isn’t simply the awesome things it does to repair the world and also isn’t just to make us feel good. Rather, the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself. That is: In performing a mitzvah, we – and the world – become one with God (or read: the universe, existence, the cosmos, transcendence.) Team SKINNY likes Rambam a lot.


(to chew on)

The fringed tassels that are tied to the 4 corners on a tallit – Jewish prayer shawl - are called tzitzit (tzeet-tzeet). Tzitzit are tied into knots that form a physical representation of the 613 mitzvot. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. The value of the letters in the word tzitzit add up to 600. Tzitzit are comprised of 8 strings that are tied into 5 knots on each tassel. Added together: 600 + 8 + 5 = 613.
For our SKINNY readers who are into graphic novels, Team SKINNY recommends The 613 by Archie Rand. Recently published by Blue Rider Press, The 613 depicts the 613 mitzvot in stunning images with very few words (for SKINNY readers who hate to read :-]).