Why are there so many
When the Temple is standing in Jerusalem, there are separate mitzvahs to both slaughter and eat the Pascal offering. There is a negative commandment prohibiting the eating of the Korban Pesach if it is cooked or raw (it must be roasted over a fire). None of its meat may be left over 'til morning. The Pascal offering may not be shared with an idol-worshiping Jew or with an uncircumcised Jew. It may not be shared with a gentile. A Pascal offering may not be taken out from the house in which it is being eaten. Finally, we are not allowed to break any of the bones of the Pascal lamb, even while we are eating it (we may, however, detach separate bones from each other).
That's a lot of laws for one little lamb. Why must there be so many? Why can't our holidays be like the Fourth of July, with simple instructions like having a barbecue and setting off illegal fireworks?
We assume that questions like these express the frustration of typical 21st Century Jews in America, trying to hold true to our traditions amidst a society whose nature is to draw us away from them. But actually, these questions are older. We find they were being asked already in the Middle Ages, in the classic treatise on the 613 mitzvahs: Sefer Hachinuch (The Book of Education).
Examining the mitzvah not to break any bone from the Korban Pesach, the Sefer Hachinuch explains that it is not befitting the honor of the Royal Family to chomp up bones as we're eating their meat, like dogs do. That is the manner of impoverished people. On Pesach, when we remember our awesome birth as a nation and the pivotal mission with which our Creator charged us-to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation-we conduct ourselves in a manner that demonstrates that we understand the noble challenge that G-d gave us and we accept it. By performing the many mitzvahs of Passover, we stamp this understanding in our souls forever.
By why with so many rules, the Sefer Hachinuch queries? Why can't we remember the Exodus with just one mitzvah? Is it really so hard to commemorate?
To answer to this question, the Sefer Hachinuch informs us, we must recognize a fundamental principal of human psychology. "A person is affected by his or her actions." This means that our inner thoughts and beliefs are molded by our external actions. Our hearts and our thoughts follow the lead of whichever activities we choose to engage in, for the good or for the bad. Thus, even a man completely wicked at heart, were he to wake up one morning and resolve to outwardly engage in Torah and mitzvahs, his thoughts would begin to improve and eventually the strength of his deeds would change his heart. Conversely, even a person completely righteous at heart, were he to be forced to perform some spiritually demeaning activity, his heart would eventually be drawn down to the level of his actions.
Thus, our sages teach us: "G-d wanted to confer merit on Israel, therefore he gave them much Torah and mitzvahs"-so that through our occupation with Torah and mitzvahs, we purify our hearts and souls and merit bonding with G-d eternally. Every action in which we involve ourselves, at any hour of the day, has an affect on our thoughts and beliefs. G-d gave us many mitzvahs to ensure that there always be something uplifting with which we can occupy our actions, thereby elevating our souls.
We live in an age in which there are an ever increasing number of activities vying for our attention that are not particularly spiritually uplifting. Many of them are quite the opposite. Relying only on our good hearts to save us from being tugged down with the lowering tide of morality is a dangerous gamble. It is more dangerous today than it was fifty years ago (or even twenty years ago). G-d stacked the deck in our favor by granting us many mitzvahs. Many mitzvahs on Pesach to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Many mitzvahs every day and throughout the year to elevate our hearts and souls and bring us closer to G-d.
Why are there so many mitzvahs? They're for our benefit. They uplift us. Try a new one out today. Within a few days, you're guaranteed to feel the difference.
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