The chocolate cake was so delicious that the baker decided to add two helpings of chocolate when he baked the cake again. He fudged it; and it didn’t taste right. The bass was so brilliant at the symphony that the conductor decided to add three new bass players to the orchestra. It sounded brass. Since the congregation adored the rabbi’s 15-minute sermon, he chose to speak 45 minutes the following Shabbat. To his surprise, the sermon was a bust.
In Parshat Reeh the Torah proscribes any tampering with the mitzvoth of the Torah. There is no, “The more the merrier,” or, “Let’s taper it down a bit,” when it comes to Torah. We take four species on Sukkoth. We include four passages in Tefillin. We cannot add eggs and fruit juice to the flour and water mix of matzoh. Shabbat cannot be two days a week. Rather, it’s just one—from Friday, when the sun sets, until Saturday night, when the stars appear. To add or subtract would be an actual biblical violation, as it states in Deuteronomy 13:1.
אֵ֣ת כׇּל־הַדָּבָ֗ר אֲשֶׁ֤ר אָנֹכִי֙ מְצַוֶּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם אֹת֥וֹ תִשְׁמְר֖וּ לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת לֹא־תֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֔יו וְלֹ֥א תִגְרַ֖ע מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it.
But why not? If the lulav looks beautiful with four species, why not include another four to add color to the bouquet? If Shabbat is an exquisite day of rest, then shouldn’t retirees and college students on vacation celebrate Shabbat two or three times a week?
The Shadal, Prof. Shmuel David Luzzatto (Italy, 1800-1865) explains in his commentary that we may never change the Torah Law because doing so would violate Divine intent. He quotes the Prophet Isaiah and writes, “Our thinking is not G-d’s thinking.” Therefore, we adhere to the Mitzvoth as they have been disseminated through the millennia from Sinai until today.
One of the incredible aspects of Torah is that despite being transmitted over 3,300 years ago, it contains many messages, insights, and direction that are as relevant today as they were then. For example, we aim to employ the same loving kindness demonstrated by our father Avraham, who welcomed strangers into his tent in the Torah, whether at the Ukrainian border or at our Shabbat tables.
The foundations of Judaism and our Jewish Federation generally rest on the Torah and its timeless principles. It is the Torah’s eternal wisdom that guides us not only in the synagogue, but in our homes, at the office, and everywhere we go. As the saying goes, “Don’t mess with perfection.”
Community Scholar in Residence