The Torah forbids us from adding or subtracting from the Mitzvos of the Torah.
We all understand what subtracting from the Mitzvos of the Torah is. However, adding Mitzvos it is even forbidden when adding within the Mitzva itself. For example: placing two Mezzuza parchments on the same door post; adding a fifth compartment to one’s Tefilin; or a placing tassels on a fifth corner of a Talis. Doing this would be classified as the prohibition of adding to the Mitzvos.
We know that our Sages added seven rabbinic Mitzvos which we are familiar with: 1) The lighting of Shabbos and Yom Tov candles. 2) The Holiday of Chanukah 3) The Holiday of Purim 4) Reciting blessings before we eat and when we perform Mitzvos. 5) The laws of washing hands for bread. 6) Reciting Hallel prayers on Holidays. 7) The laws of erecting or securing an Airuv – enclosure so that one can transport items from one domain to another domain on the Shabbos.
So how is this possible? After all, the Torah tells us not to add to the commands, and this appears to be adding. The Talmud addresses this and explains that the Torah itself empowered our Sages to add to the Mitzvos when they saw it fit and necessary to secure and to raise the level of appreciation and adherence to G-d.
Our Sages point out that the total number of letters in the Ten Commandments as recorded in the Book of Exodus is 620. The 620 letters represents the 613 Biblical commands as well as the 7 Rabbinical commands, which totals 620 commands. Thus the Ten Commandments uttered by G-d encompass all our commandments.
Our Sages also enacted certain restraints in order to protect us from the temptation of sin. For example, prohibiting an unrelated male and female to be in a secluded room together due to the possibility of engaging in intimate relations.
Rabbi Yehuda Pasia o.b.m. gave the following example to explain how these types of additions our Sages added to the Torah interface with the actual Torah laws.
An ill patient visited a doctor, and after examining him the doctor prescribed a list of herbs and ingredients. He gave him the exact measurements and how he should prepare them. The doctor warned him, ‘do not add or subtract from these instructions, lest it would be harmful to you.’
The patient went and prepared the concoction and poured the potion into a jar to keep it safe. An onlooker who was aware of the doctor’s orders not to add to the concoction turned to the patient and asked him, ‘Why are you going against the doctor’s orders? Didn’t you hear the doctor tell you not to add to the exact ingredients and here you are pouring it into a jar which he did not prescribe!
The patient turned to the “well-meaning person” and explained, ‘You see, the jar is not a part of the ingredients itself, it is only a mechanism to prevent the contents from spilling. The doctor did not have to instruct me to pour the potent into a jar, because he knows that it is prudent to do so to protect it.
Reb Yehuda explained that the same can be applied to when the Torah commands us not to add to or subtract from the basic contents of the laws, such as adding or subtracting from the four species related to the Mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog. Our Sages added what we consider the jar to the medicine – the protective measures were implemented so that one should not transgress, slip, and forget about the laws of the Torah. They were also given to promote the preservation of miracles that happened in the past as a motivation to bring honor and tribute to G-d!
Throughout the Torah we find that Mitzvos and observances are linked to the remembrance of our miraculous exodus from Egypt.
The saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, once visited a doctor during a pandemic that claimed the lives of many Jews. The doctor asked the rabbi, “Where is G-d if such things happen?”
The Chofetz Chaim asked the doctor to prove that he was indeed a doctor. The doctor pointed to his certificate hanging on the wall. The Chofetz Chaim looked at the document and said, “That was given to you forty years ago!” The doctor responded “Do you expect me to be examined each day to determine that I am qualified? What was given to me forty years ago is enough to prove that I am indeed a doctor!”
The Chofetz Chaim explained that the same is true with G-d.
During the events of the exodus from Egypt, G-d proved that He was the Creator and is in control of the entire universe. It was witnessed by all. In order for us to receive reward for the fulfillment of Mitzvos, G-d gave us the choice to choose right from wrong. If G-d’s majesty would be as constantly evident as the exodus of Egypt, our freedom of choice would be taken away from us and we would not be able to receive reward and punishment, since G-d’s existence would be so overwhelming obvious there would be no place for sin.
G-d instructed us to pass on the great miracles of the exodus from generation to generation and teach our children to believe in G-d.
The Chofetz Chaim thoughtfully turned to the doctor, ‘The exodus is G-d’s certificate for all generations.’