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What Is the Significance of the Number of G‑d’s 613 Commandments?

What Is the Significance of the Number of G‑d’s 613 Commandments?

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Question:

Does 613, the number of commandments G‑d gave the Jews, have any symbolic meaning?

Answer:

Spiritual Limbs

G‑d’s commandments are divided into 248 positive precepts and 365 prohibitions. According to our sages, the human body is divided into 248 organs and 365 sinews.1 Our sages teach that the 248 limbs correspond to the 248 positive precepts2, and the 365 sinews correspond to the 365 prohibitions.3 Each commandment pairs up with a specific limb or sinew, and just as we take care of our physical limbs and sinews, we also need to take care of our spiritual “limbs and sinews.”

In the Talmud, Rabbi Simlai says that the 365 prohibitions represent the 365 days in a solar year’s cycle. The famed commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, explains that the 365 days of the year should bring vigilance in fulfilling G‑d’s 365 prohibitions.4

Why Were We Created?

The book of Isaiah quotes G‑d as saying, “I made the earth, and created man upon it.”5 The numeric value of the Hebrew word “created” (barati—בראתי) is 613. The sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, explained that the very purpose for which G‑d “made the earth and created man” is to fulfill His 613 commandments.6

G‑d’s Will

While the biblical commandments number 613, there are in fact an additional 7 rabbinical commandments. The Kabbalists explain that the Hebrew word for crown (keter—כתר) has the numeric value of 620, the sum of the biblical and rabbinical commandments.

In Kabbalistic teachings the concept of a crown, which sits atop the head, is used as a metaphor for willpower (crown) which is higher than intellect (brain). A person’s will is higher than his intellect. A person’s desire can be an expression of his innermost self and the very depths of his soul. That intrinsic desire can empower him to act contrary to logic. Sometimes it is one’s innermost desire that shapes his mode of logic, because desire is such a deep manifestation of the soul that it dominates all other facets of the soul. That is why it is called a “crown.”7

In reference to the spiritual spheres, the Kabbalists call this will the Supreme Crown. It is the supreme level of G‑dliness that transcends all spiritual worlds, the supreme will. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, explains that by fulfilling the physical commandments in our world, we bring this transcendent level of G‑dliness into our lives, our surroundings, and our world.8

For a listing of the 613 commandments according to Maimonides’ count, see here.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism Website—Chabad.org


Footnotes
1.

They are not counted according to scientific methods. Rather, the number is based upon which limbs would be given an important place in Jewish law. They are listed in Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew), vol. 1, pp. 114ff.

2.

Talmud, Makkot 23b.

3.

Zohar 1:170b.

4.

Makkot, ibid. Alternatively, Rabbi Hamnuna explains: the verse states (Deuteronomy 33:4), “The Torah that Moses commanded us is a legacy for the congregation of Jacob.” In Hebrew, the word Torah (תורה) has the numerical value of 611. He explains that 611 commandments of G‑d were instructed to us via Moses, while the first two of the Ten Commandments were said directly by G‑d, totaling 613.

7.

See Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, known as the Ramak, in Pardes 8:3.

8.

Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, epistle 29.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team and is co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Davis with his wife Sorele.
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Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org July 19, 2016

To Mendel The 248 limbs are enumerated by our Sages in the Mishnah (Ohalot, 1:8). I have not compared their breakdown to the current anatomical count. However, modern scientists may have different criteria for how they classify what is a distinct bone from those of the Sages. For example, certain bones consist of multiple bones fused together. The purposes of classifying the bones are also different for the Torah and for science. Scientists are interested in describing how the body works, while the Torah's enumeration relates to the laws of the impurity of a corpse, and to how much of the body confers this ritual impurity. Therefore they may well be looking at different factors in their counting. Reply

Mendel 91403 July 1, 2016

248 positive mitzvah Where does the Torah get 248 from? I know there are 206 bones in the skeleton, but where does the other 42 come from? Reply

Leah Z May 15, 2016

Dear Rabbi, you mentioned that "Our sages teach that the 248 limbs correspond to the 248 positive precepts, and the 365 sinews correspond to the 365 prohibitions."

This is not the first time I hear this sentence. This statement dose not reflect the number of organs in a female. I have been told that the sages had ruach ha-kodesh. So, why would they say such sentence that a) wouldn't be true about half of the population. b) this statement has basically factored out women and it appears to me as "another" evidence in which women would not be hold any share in Judaism!

I will appreciate it if you can please explain my point of confusion. Thank you Reply

Alicia C. Simpson Philadelphia June 27, 2015

What is a year? I am curious, the very concept of a solar year did not exist prior to Nicolaus Copernicus and his heliocentric theory of the solar system, as to how a 3rd century rabbi could actually have mentioned a solar year? Was it actually a tropical year, from one equinox to the next (which, yes, is the same as a solar year but the term solar year would not have been used for it) or a sidereal year, one based on the celestial sphere (which is a bit longer than the 365.2425 days of a solar year at 365.256363, but changes all the time)?

I am trying to understand when humans began using a 365 day calendar so any information would be useful. Reply

Anonymous July 21, 2011

613 Commandments Fascinating! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 20, 2011

Crown It's so interesting I wrote, yesterday, about our Crown of Glory, being a woman's hair, and how we use this word, for hair. There was a hair dressing salon I frequented in Watertown, MA by this name.

Keter.

I think we need to hear each other, and that Keter is deeply about this, as throne is to what we are thrown, in life, and how we deal with our particular set of issues, problems, gifts.

I believe that what super "seeds" all Commandments is the mitzvot of tzedakah in the sense of how we are with each other, what we give, in deep, loving ways, and this I will translate as involving ALL creation, including, not excluding our environment, meaning the birds, the trees, the animals, and what lives within our homes and without.

I am personally very "keyed" to numbers. I see deep connections within numbers to our lives, and it is said, our days our numbered, and so it is, with the Hebrew for each day.

I say, there is something in all this that is primary, that needs major attention. Reply

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