Nowadays, one can only keep so many Mitzvos (271). That is less than half of the commandments of the Torah. I don't know if there is any statistic regarding how many Psukim discuss currently relevant laws in contrast to previously relevant laws (for example, how many Psukim discuss Tzaraas, Korbanos, and Tuma vs. Tzitzis, Tfillin, and Dinim).

Moreover, many laws became inapplicable towards the end of the first Beis Hamikdash. That means that there are many laws that were only applicable for less than 800 years.

Hashem knew that the Jews will spend most of our history in exile. Why is so much of the Torah written about things that will be actualized rarely, while many laws that are relevant for all time (for example, Tfillin, Mzuza) are learned from diyukim in scattered verses?

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    Have you ever redeemed your firstborn donkey? Not all mitzvot were designed for common use.
    – Double AA
    Feb 15, 2012 at 20:37
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    Can someone explain to me how it's possible that you "can't do" 1 of the 365 negative commandments? You can always "Not do" something...
    – avi
    Feb 15, 2012 at 22:17
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    @avi, some of them are predicated on particular situations (as in our parshah, "If you lend money... don't charge interest"). If you've never lent anyone money, then can you really say that you've fulfilled this commandment?
    – Alex
    Feb 16, 2012 at 0:09
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    Re: "Hashem knew that the Jews will spend most of our history in exile." -- History isn't finished. Maybe this is just a tiny fraction of future jewish history.
    – zaq
    Feb 17, 2012 at 17:02
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    @avi: The Mishnah, Menachos 109a, explicitly says no: "[If one says], 'I shall be a nazir' - he must shave [and bring his korbanos] in the Beis Hamikdash; if he does so in Chonyo's temple, he has not fulfilled his obligation [and remains a nazir]."
    – Alex
    Feb 17, 2012 at 18:55

2 Answers 2


Maybe that's just it. With exile having been our dominant mode of existence for most of our history, there is a real danger that we'll come to see that as the norm. By having - and learning about - so many mitzvos, with the details richly given, that we can't perform in galus, then that drives home the point that things are not how they should be, which in turn should spur us to become worthy of geulah.

Another possibility, too, is that the details of those rarely applicable halachos are more likely to be forgotten altogether. (We even find that the paradigmatic forgotten halachos, those that were lost during the period of mourning for Moshe, include cases involving kodashim - Temurah 15b-16b.) At least with tefillin and tzitzis and mezuzah, since they are daily activities, their basic halachos are pretty clear and unequivocal; the machlokos about them tend to involve the details. (Everyone agrees, for example, about the shape, color, and positions on the body of tefillin, and on what parshiyos are in them.) By contrast, if the details of korbanos, tzaraas, and similar mitzvos weren't given in the Written Torah, it is quite possible that substantial chunks of this information would have been lost or confused (the more so because there are a lot of subtle differences between ostensibly similar cases).


Perhaps on a pseudo-philosophical level:

The only way I can get a reward for a mitzva that I didn't do myself is if I connect myself to the broader body of the Jewish people. This works not only laterally (I can't do the mitzva of the Kohen's blessing, but I know someone who can), but also temporally -- I have to connect to the entire Jewish people, which extends through time as well.

If an individual person could be completely halachically self-sufficient, then s/he could become a one-person island. But that's not how it works.

  • +1, and a nice idea (I do recall seeing something of the sort somewhere - maybe in R. Hirsch's writings?) Interestingly, though, a statement of the Arizal's implies pretty much the opposite: he says that every soul is indeed expected to be able to keep all of the 613 on its own (except for the mitzvos applying to a king, since he includes everyone), and may have to go through multiple gilgulim to do so. (Cited in Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh 29; see footnotes 10-14 and accompanying text.)
    – Alex
    Feb 17, 2012 at 21:46
  • @ShmuelBrill, ishto kegufo. (Also, why wouldn't a woman's soul be able to be reincarnated as a male and vice-versa?)
    – Alex
    Feb 20, 2012 at 22:13
  • @ShmuelBrill, I thought that that's true of the bodies, whereas the neshamos are from Mah and Ban, respectively. I can't claim to be knowledgeable about this whole matter, but I've found references to Tikkunei Zohar (132b) and Shaar Hagilgulim (Hakdamah 9), both of which state that neshamos can be switched around for various reasons.
    – Alex
    Feb 21, 2012 at 0:17

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