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The last verse in Parshas Vaeschanan (Devarim 7:11) says:

וְשָֽׁמַרְתָּ֨ אֶת־הַמִּצְוָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֣ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָֽנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם לַֽעֲשׂתָֽם:

You shall therefore, observe the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day to do.

The Passuk, while exhorting us to follow the Torah, uses 3 different words to refer to various precepts in the Torah: Mitzvah, Chukim, and Mishpatim. The first of that list, Mitzvah, is written in the singular, while the other two are plural. It seemingly makes more sense for it to be plural (since the context of the Passuk seems to be referring to keeping all the Mitzvos), so why does the Torah use the singular version of 'Mitzvah' when the plural 'Mitzvos' would seem to make more sense?


I'm aware that a lot of places (including the quote I have above) still seem to translate 'Mitzvah' in the plural ('commandments'), but that seems to be due to making an inexact translation. The word 'Mitzvah' is clearly singular, so while a contextual, inexact translation could be written as plural, the literal definition is quite plainly singular.

Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, published by JPS (found on Sefaria) gives a very creative translation of this Passuk which definitely does not fit with the simple definition, but if anyone could find the source for why they translate it in that manner, I guess that could be an answer:

וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֨ אֶת־הַמִּצְוָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֣ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם לַעֲשׂוֹתָֽם׃ (פ)

Therefore, observe faithfully the Instruction—the laws and the rules—with which I charge you today.

  • Like you say אלף שקל or אלף פר. This is very common in the Biblical Hebrew to refer to plural in single. – Al Berko Aug 18 '19 at 18:38
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    I'm not making this an answer because I haven't fleshed it out, but the Chizkuni says it is in the singular to parallel it to the singular in pasuk 9 which is a singular mitzvoto in the ktiv but mitzvotav in kri (which would then lead to the "doing one mitzvah is tantamount to doing them all" speech) – rosends Aug 19 '19 at 15:59
  • It could be that some authority (rabbinic or pre-rabbinic) may have said that the word MITZVAH ( = Command ) is a synonym for TORAH ( = Teaching ). Perhaps or perhaps not. I put this question as a bounty, to put this theory to test. Still, any authoritative answer, rabbinic or pre-rabbinic, is acceptable. – ninamag Jun 16 at 6:50
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According to the Rambam (this is not the only interpretation) Makkos 3,16 The Passuk could be referring to doing all of one Mitzva the result of which one will attain Olam Haba (see Rashi who says on the passuk is referring to attainment of world to come"היום לעשותם" - ולמחר לעולם הבא ליטול שכרם):

רבי חנניא בן עקשיא אומר רצה הקב"ה לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להם תורה וכו' - מעקרי האמונה בתורה כשיקיים אדם מצוה מתרי״ג מצות כראוי וכהוגן ולא ישתף עמה כוונה מכוונת העולם בשום פנים אלא שיעשה אותה לשמה מאהבה כמו שבארתי לך הנה זכה בה לחיי העולם הבא ועל זה אמר רבי חנניא כי המצות בהיותם הרבה אי אפשר שלא יעשה אדם בחייו אחת מהם על מתכונתה ושלמותה ובעשותו אותה המצוה תחיה נפשו באותו מעשה וממה שיורה על העיקר הזה מה ששאל ר׳ חנניא בן תרדיון מה אני לחיי עוה״ב והשיבו המשיב כלום בא מעשה לידך כלומר נזדמן לך לעשות מצוה כהוגן השיבו כי נזדמנה לו מצות צדקה על דרך שלימות ככל מה שאפשר וזכה לחיי העוה׳׳ב ופירוש הפסוק ה׳ חפץ למען צדקו לצדק את ישראל למען כי יגדיל תורה ויאדיר:
(I've only translated the bold Hebrew)When a person does one Mitzva from 613 as Hashem wishes without any ulterior sorely motive whatsoever rather he does that Mitzva purely for the sake of love of Hashem for this he has attained the world to come

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    I don't understand how this comment ties back to Devarim 7:11. Rambam doesn't mention that Passuk in his commentary. Rashi on 7:11 is referring to all the Mitzvos one does, so the question of why Mitzvah is Singular and Chukim and Mishpatim are plural still stands. Can you explain further how this answers why Mitzvah in Devarim 7:11 is singular? – Salmononius2 Aug 18 '19 at 19:24
  • i have edited to say that ts a possibility. the reason why i quoted rashi that the passuk is referring to olam haba, is because the Rambam clearly says that you only need to do one Mitzva to attain Olam haba, which fits in with the singular form "Mitzva" of this Passuk talking about attaining olam haba.. So this Passuk fits in beautifully with the Rambam even though he learnt this concept from a Mishna in Makkos quoting a passuk which is directly referring to this concept, that many Mitzvos give us more opportunity to do one mitzva perfectly.@Salmononius2 – user15464 Aug 18 '19 at 21:02
  • @Salmononius2 It could be understood as: You shall guard the commandment, with it’s statutes and it’s ordinances. Another possibility is that it refers to the Torah which contains all the commandments, I also heard that it could be referring to the Shema (6:4). When it says ‘all’ followed by commandment in the singular like in Devarim 8:1 it could also mean ‘each’ commandment. – Levi Jun 14 at 5:30
  • HaMitzvah in such a sense it considered to refer the the whole body of mitzvot (see also Abarbanel). – Levi Jun 14 at 6:45
  • Personally I thing HaMitzvah refers to something else, a mitzvah in essence is a holy obligation which we Jews take upon ourselves. Now take a look at Shemot 24 the one obligation we took upon ourselves while receiving the instructions, obligations, commandments etc of G-d was that we would act according to what G-d would tell us. The covenant was made in agreement with these words. So every time mitzvah is mentioned in the singular it refers to this obligation, namely that one should act according to the words that are being handed over to us. – Levi Jun 14 at 7:08

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