This letter was addressed to R. Nissan Mindel, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries.

B”H, 18 Adar II, 5708

Greetings and blessings,

In response to your letter:

I. With regard to the number of mitzvos of Rabbinic origin: The question subdivides into three: a) How many mitzvos of Rabbinic origin are there? b) Which of the ordinances established by our Sages were included in this reckoning?, and c) Why were these ordinances and not others included in this reckoning? I will deal [with these questions] one by one:

a) The number of mitzvos of Rabbinic origin — The Shelah writes (Parshas Yisro, Chelek Torah Or): “There are 620 letters in the Ten Commandments, the same as the כתר, “crown,” of the Torah. With regard to the 613 letters, in each letter is inscribed one of the 613 mitzvos. The seven additional letters refer to the seven mitzvos of the Rabbis as stated by the earlier Sages.”

Similarly, the reckoning of seven mitzvos of Rabbinical origin is mentioned by Sefer HaChinuch (at the conclusion of the indices), Megaleh Amukos (Ofen 75), Meorei Or (sec. 7, subsec. 13), the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 29, et al.), the Vilna Gaon (as quoted in the text Beis Yitzchak), the commentary to the Torah entitled Heichal Berachah at its conclusion, Mitzvos HaShem ([which discusses] the mitzvos) at its conclusion, among others.

A lone view is that of R. David Neto in Kuzari II (the third debate, sec. 1), who counts ten mitzvos of Rabbinic origin.

b) Which of the ordinances established by our Sages were included in this reckoning? — Washing hands [before a meal and before the morning prayers], making eruvin, reciting blessings, kindling the Shabbos lights, reading the Megillah, commemorating Chanukah, and reciting Hallel. These are listed in Sefer HaChinuch, Megaleh Amukos, Heichal Berachah, and Mitzvos HaShem.

c) Why were these ordinances included in this reckoning and not others? — The only mitzvos that were considered as independent Rabbinic ordinances were those that do not have a source in Scriptural Law and which our Sages ordained that a blessing be recited for their observance (Mitzvos HaShem).

Note: Sefer Mitzvos Gadol (at the conclusion of the portion dealing with the positive mitzvos) and Shaarei Kedushah by R. Chayim Vital (Vol. I, Shaar 4) mentioned other ordinances among the mitzvos of Rabbinic origin and omitted some of those mentioned. These two sources, however, do not mention a specific number of mitzvos of Rabbinic origin. Therefore, it is possible to say that they do not differ with regard to the number of mitzvos of Rabbinic origin, only with regard to which ordinances to include in the reckoning and which to omit. [To cite a parallel:] We find differences of opinion with regard to which mitzvos are of Scriptural origin, but all agree that there are 613 mitzvos. The difference of opinion involves which [mitzvos] are counted and which are omitted. This is not the place for further discussion of the issue.

II. Is the expression Chochmah, Binah, and Daas (wisdom, understanding, and knowledge) found in the Tanach? For in Shmos 31:2, we find the expression Chochmah, Tevunah, and Daas.

The terms Chochmah and Binah are used in association in Devarim 4:6; Yeshayahu 29:14; Mishlei 4:5-7, 7:4, 16:16, 23:23; Iyov 28:12, 28:20, 38:36, 39:17.

The terms Chochmah, Binah, and Daas are used in association in Yeshayahu 11:2; [and] Mishlei 3:5-7, 8:12-14, 9:10, 30:2-3.

III. What is the difference between Binah and Tevunah? — With regard to the different levels of intellect, Binah represents an elevated level within the intellect, or to quote the Zohar (III, 291a): “Binah surpasses Tevunah.Binah represents a level where a concept has already come into the level of explanation; it can be grasped with its particulars and one can deduce one idea from another idea. {Chochmah, by contrast, refers to a flash of conceptualization and the initial revelation within the mind (Tanya, chs. 3 and 18).} Nevertheless, [within Binah,] the fundamental dimension is the intellectual give-and-take and logical reasoning. After this intellectual give-and-take, one arrives at decisions to be applied in actual practice, and they become the fundamental focus. The person becomes involved with them and the logical reasoning becomes an auxiliary and hidden factor. At this level, the name Tevunah is appropriate. (See the Zohar, loc. cit., and the commentaries to Mishlei 2:3 which cite both terms Binah and Tevunah together.)

It is clear that the above distinctions between Binah and Tevunah or between Chochmah and Binah apply only with regard to those verses or statements of our Sages that refer to these subjects according to their precise meaning. In the sources where there are no fine distinctions between the particulars, the term that is most appropriate is used even though the intent is to refer to the other levels of intellect as well. This is not the place to elaborate on proofs of the above.

IV. Rashi (Shmos 32:4) states that the eirev rav (the mixed multitude of converts who accompanied the Jews out of Egypt) were the ones who made the Golden Calf. Therefore, they said: “This is your G‑d, Israel,” and not, “This is our G‑d, Israel.” Based on that understanding, how would one interpret the charge Shema Yisrael, “Hear, Israel”?

Rashi’s proof comes from the fact that they said “your G‑d” and not “our G‑d.” [This shows that] the speaker could not include himself among those he was addressing. With regard to Shema Yisrael, by contrast, the verse continues: “G‑d is our L‑rd.”

Moreover, when the leader of the people addresses the nation, it is common for him to use wording which indicates that he does not include himself among them. With regard to the fashioning of the Golden Calf, the call “This is your G‑d, Israel,” was also issued by the people. Hence, [the fact that it establishes a distinction] indicates that it was made by a separate faction within the Jewish people, the eirev rav.

The expression “To your tents, O Israel” (I Melachim 12:16) [does not pose a difficulty] to this [resolution], for in that source, [the intent is that] every individual has his own personal tent.

With wishes for success and blessing; may your speeches be “words that emanate from the heart” and [therefore] “enter the hearts” of the listeners, to broaden their knowledge of G‑d and strengthen them in the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. With greetings to all the members of our group,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee