When I first suggested to Lisa the idea of learning one mitzvah a day, she encouraged me to blog about each of the commandments. This sounded like a great suggestion. What I've learned though (given that this is only my 3rd or 4th blog entry thus far) is that (1) I haven't done so well in the blogging department, (2) I'll never mirror the recipe-cooking process from Julie and Julia, and (3) I don't think that anyone will ever look to me to create an online reference guide to Sefer Ha-Chinuch (which already exists anyway). It suffices to say that I was excited to embark on a new learning endeavor and to continue sharing my learning with other people. As is the case with any teacher, I hope that by discussing my own learning, I might encourage other people to engage in their own learning process too.
Sometimes, over the past 100 days, I've found myself asking the question, "Is that really one of the 613 commandments? This is not what I personally thought would be considered in a listing of the 613 mitzvot." But one of the things that the anonymous author of Sefer Ha-Chinuch does well is to explain what he perceives to be the reason behind such commandments. So many of the commandments are grounded in creating a societiy based upon the principles of compassion and justice. Why don't we bear false witness (Mitzvah 37)? Because we would not be able to exist in a society where it was acceptable to lie. Why don't we curse a judge (69) or a sovereign leader (71)? The author reckons that if we create hatred against our judges, such emotion might prevent them from adjudicating fairly. Further, he explains, if we have chosen leaders, we need, to a certain extent, to impart to them the trust to lead over us (again, with a sense of justice and compassion). Sefer Ha-Chinuch doesn't come right out and say, "Be a good person. Build a good community." Instead, the author attempts to determine how the commandments found in the Torah challenge us to be a good person and build a good community.
As of today, my accounting is as follows:
Bereshit - Gen. 1-6:8 - 1 commandment - February 12
Lech Lecha - Gen. 12-17 - 1 commandment - February 13
Vayishlach - Gen. 32:3-36:43 - 1 commandment - February 14
Bo - Ex. 10-13:16 - 20 commandments - February 15 - March 6
Beshallach - Ex. 13:17-17-16 - 1 commandment - March 7
Yitro - Ex. 18-20 - 17 commandments - March 8 - 24
Mishpatim - Ex. 21-24 - 53 commandments - March 25 - May 16
Terumah - Ex. 25-27:19 - 3 commandments - May 17 - 19
Tetzaveh - Ex. 27:20-30:10 - 3 of 7 commandments - May 20 - present
14 commandments remain in order for me to complete the book of Exodus - 4 more in Tetzaveh, 9 in Ki Tissa, and 1 in Vayakhel/Pekudei.
Today's commandment, number 100, from Parashat Tetzaveh, focuses on commandments pertaining to priestly dress, and in particular, discusses how the breastplate (choshen) worn by the High Priest should not become dislodged from the ephod, a sleeveless garment worn by the ancient priests. As considerations for the observance of this commandment, (1) if the choshen and the ephod were not properly tied together, they would strike against the chest of the priest (and be uncomfortable!), (2) the priest needs to be properly attired to perform his duties, and (3) there is a certain regard for "aesthetic excellence," in that the priest is attired in a ritual way to perform ritual duties, which elevates the sanctity of both his work and the "grandeur" of the sanctuary.
Is this law still applicable today? Are these laws still worth learning, studying, and contemplating? How interesting that earlier today, I read a post shared by a colleague on Facebook pertaining to dress code in a particular school, and the values associated with how we dress: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophia-herbst/dress-coded-an-education-_b_5342040.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000046 What does our dress say about us? What do others think and articulate about how we dress? It is interesting to note, that centuries after the first publication of Sefer Ha-Chinuch, centuries after receiving Torah, we are still grappling with similar concepts in our own culture, our own time.
Perhaps there are still great lessons to be learned. As Ben Bag Bag said, "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it" (Avot 5:23).
With gratitude to all who have joined me on this exceptionally rewarding journey, most especially my wife Lisa, who even at 10:30 at night, has turned to me and said, "Have you done your mitzvah for the day?"
513 to go.