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There are arguments in the Rishonim about what the 613 mitzvos are. But even if you hold something's not part of the 613, it's still a mitzva, so what's so special if it is part of the 613?

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How can we say it's a Miswa if it's not in the 613? Then it's a Derabanan. –  Hacham Gabriel Apr 19 '13 at 18:40
@shlomo I'm confused how a mitvah can be d'oraita and not one of the 613 d'oraita mitzvot. Can you say specifically what you're talking about before asking for a general case? –  Charles Koppelman Apr 19 '13 at 19:50
@CharlesKoppelman For instance, dipping metal food utensils bought from non-Jews is considered by many (most?) to be a biblical requirement. However, most (all?) do not list this in their list of the 613. –  Double AA Apr 19 '13 at 22:40
@DoubleAA In my comment here, I'm not aware that I was using any category. When you brought your example for what shlomo was talking about, you used the term "biblical requirement" for it, whereas he was using "mitzva Doraita". Considering the different term you used, I was asking if you two were really talking about the same thing. –  Tamir Evan Apr 21 '13 at 2:16
@shlomo I don't know about others, but it seems to me that the Rambam did not recognize anything outside his count of Mitsvot being a Mitzvah de-Oraita, even if it is mentioned in the Torah shebi-Khtav, but instead would see it as part of listed Mitzvot, or as one of of their specific Halakhot. See, in his introduction to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Klal 7 and klal 11. –  Tamir Evan Apr 21 '13 at 3:09

2 Answers 2

This is a very important question which bothered me for a long time by until I saw the explanation of Rav Yeruchom Perlow in his introduction to the commentary on the Sefer HaMitzvos of Rav Sa'adyah Gaon.

The question that he addresses is why some of the Gaonim and Early Rishonim invested so much time and effort in working out the list of the 613 mitzvos. He answered that since on the one hand Chazal teach in several places that there are 613 mitzvos, and on the other hand there are clearly many more mitzvos than this, a set of rules are needed in order to determine which mitzvos should be included in the list of 613. Each one of these early authorities had his own set of rules (the Rambam spells out clearly what his rules are) and thus they each end up with a different list.

And the importance of working out which mitzvos go into the list is this: there are many mitzvos mentioned in the gemara which are not clear if they are d'oraisa (from the Torah) or d'rabanan (from the Rabbis). Even when a mitzvah seems to be derived from a posuk sometimes it is only an asmachta (a mitzvah d'rabanan which is supported by the Torah, but which does not come from the Torah). But if the mitzvah is in the list of the 613, then it is most definitely d'oraisa. And if it is not in the list then the determination of whether a certain mitzvah is d'oraisa or d'rabanan has to be made some other way, or remains a doubt.

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I have wondered this for some time as well and your answer makes me feel alot better about all the work that the Rishonim did. Do you know of anyone who gives a list of such mitzvas or examples? –  Gabi Nov 23 '13 at 18:34
"But if the mitzvah is in the list of the 613, then it is most definitely d'oraisa." I was asking for a list or examples of mitzvos mentioned in the Gemara that were not clear if they are d'oraisa or d'rabanan that a Rishon's list would demonstrate how he ruled (or more specifically that the inclusion of the mitzvah in the 613 is itself the demonstration/proof that it is d'oraisa) –  Gabi Nov 23 '13 at 19:03
Why did they settle on the number 613? Why didn't they agree on 672 or some other random number? I.e. How is 613 not a random number for the purpose of claiming there are 613 mitzvos? –  Bruce James Feb 12 at 2:46
@BruceJames - The number 613 is part of the oral tradition, not a made-up number. –  Gemini Man Feb 12 at 6:17
@GeminiMan The Rambam wasn't sure that it was a tradition. Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow, however, tried to prove otherwise. –  Bruce James Feb 12 at 16:03

The sages teach that the 365 negative commandments parallel the 365 blood vessels and tendons (Gidim), and the 248 positive commandments parallel the 248 limbs (see shaarei kedusha and Mishnah in Ohalos 1:8 which lists them).

Hence, there is special significance to those included and special kavanos to have when fulfilling them as alluded to in shaarei kedusha part 1.

Therefore a man should seek out with all his strength to fulfill all the 613 commandments, and when he fulfills a positive commandment, he should have kavana (mental intent) to remove from that specific limb of his soul which corresponds to that mitzva the impurity of that klipa. And then the limb of that holy mitzva will settle on him after the impurity has been removed, as in "and their sins were on their bones" (Yechezkel 32:27). Because when this one rises, this one falls. And likewise when a sin comes one's way, he should refrain from doing it, and he should have kavana (intent) that through this the impurity in the specific gid (pipe) of the soul which corresponds to that sin shall be removed. And then he will be able to pass the spiritual energy which is drawn through the spiritual pipe, and through this his soul will be a chair and a chariot for His holiness, may He be blessed, and this is the Sod (secret meaning) of "the forefathers, they are the chariot" (Midrash Raba - Bereishis 47:6, Zohar 1 Daf 173)

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