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