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Kabbalah teaches the importance of Torah study for the rectification of the soul.

The 613 Mitzvahs and Torah Study

The 613 Mitzvahs and Torah Study

Gate of Reincarnations: Chapter Eleven, Section 10

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The 613 Mitzvahs and Torah Study
Kabbalah teaches the importance of Torah study for the rectification of the soul.

The levels involved in the study of Torah called PaRDeS, and the levels of Action, Speech and Thought concerning all the 613 mitzvot and the general distribution of the mitzvot will be explained.

The sixth category is [also] a particular mitzvah. It is occupation with the Torah.

The mitzvah of studying Torah is equivalent to all the other mitzvot….

In the beginning of the previous section when the Ari began his discourse on the positive mitzvot he wrote that they were divided into five categories. He did not include this sixth category of studying Torah and being occupied with it. Previously he had described the laws of gilgulim relevant to the five categories of mitzvot when they are not fulfilled. Here, however, he is only going to tell us that the mitzvah of studying Torah is equivalent to all the other mitzvot and it must be accomplished on four levels, as if they were four separate mitzvot. If any one of the levels is missing, then the person must reincarnate in order to fulfill it. He does not tell us what will be the law of the gilgul since that has already been explained beforehand.

It is equal weight with all the others, as the Sages have said "The study of Torah is equivalent to all of them." (Kedushin 39b)

It has four ways whose mnemonic device is PaRDeS: Peshat, Remez, Derush, and Sod.

In other words, the Torah must be studied and understood on four different levels. It is worthwhile to note that it is said that each one of these four levels also has four levels of "PaRDeS" understanding.

A person must go out of his way to occupy himself with all of them as much as his intellect is capable of grasping. He must seek out a rabbi to teach it to him, and if he is missing any one of them relative to what he could have beheld, then he will have to reincarnate because of it.

Everyone's ability to understand PaRDeS is different, but there is an aspect of PaRDeS relevant to every level of soul.

…a person must fulfill all the 613 mitzvot in Action and in Speech, as well.

Furthermore, it is necessary to know that a person must fulfill all the 613 mitzvot in Action and in Speech, as well. This is similar to what the Sages said: "Anyone involved with [reading] the section of Olah is considered as if he actually sacrificed an Olah" (Menachot 110a). It is the same with Thought.

An Olah is a "free-will offering". This was one of the types of sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple. The simple meaning of the Sages' remark is that reading and studying of the Torah, especially its relevant sections, has been substituted for the Temple sacrifices which can no longer be performed in Action since the Destruction of the Temple.

However, if Torah Study and prayer were a complete substitute for the Temple sacrifices, then the practice of sacrifices would never have had to be prevalent. Instead of the Temple and the activities performed in the Temple, reading of Torah would have been sufficient. Since this was not the case, it must be that each period was characterized by concentration on a different tikun - according to our example, the Olah in Action during the time of the Holy Temple, and the Olah in Speech during our times. And may the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Now, there are three levels of Torah, and all the 613 mitzvot exist on all three of these levels. They are Action, Speech and Thought. They are like three parallel and equal partzufim, and each partzuf consists of 613 limbs corresponding to the 613 mitzvot of that level. Needless to say, the level of Thought is the most internal of the three, and the level of Action is the most external.

Each one of the 613 mitzvot can be classified into one of these three levels….

In addition, each one of the 613 mitzvot can be classified into one of these three levels. Some or most mitzvot, like tefillin or charity primarily exist in the realm of Action. Some, like the study of Torah or prayer, primarily exist in the realm of Speech. Some, like the fear of G‑d or the love of G‑d, primarily exist in the realm of Thought. Nevertheless, each one also pertains to the other two realms as well. For example, the mitzvot of tefillin or charity have to be studied in the Torah. Thus, they also exist in the realm of Speech. Similarly, a person should come at some point in his life to think about these mitzvot before he does them, or while he is doing them, or while he is studying them, etc. Thus, these mitzvot also exist in the realm of Thought.

It is the same with the mitzvot like study of Torah and prayer that exist primarily in the realm of Speech. A person needs to physically go to the Study Hall or the Synagogue, he needs to turn the pages of the book or make specified genuflections and other movements during prayer. Even the movement of his speech organs is a physical act.

Similarly, a person who fears G‑d and loves Him will do things and say things, over and beyond the physical shapes of the mitzvot, that reflect his attitudes towards the Almighty and His creation. Thus, all the 613 mitzvot exist on all three levels of Action, Speech and Thought at the same time.

Furthermore, it must be known that there are 613 mitzvot distributed among the 613 limbs and sinews of Adam. These are called the 613 Major Roots. Each limb has particular mitzvot that pertain to it.

This is like the sayings of the Sages listed in Talmud Shabbat 118b, from which we learn that the rabbis each had mitzvot that were especially dear to them from among all the others, and which they were especially strict and diligent to perform. The following is one example:

In the Left Shoulder there are 11 positive mitzvot and 15 negative mitzvot….

Rabbi Yosef asked Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbah, "Which is the mitzvah that your father was especially careful in its performance?"

"In tzitzit…" he answered him. "One day [my father] was ascending a staircase and a thread of his tzitzit was torn off. He did not move from the place until the thread was replaced."

Nevertheless, we shall see that Rabbi Chaim Vital does not necessarily accept this easy explanation to the words of the Holy Ari.

In the Left Shoulder there are 11 positive mitzvot and 15 negative mitzvot that pertain to it. Everyone who is from this shoulder is obligated to fulfill these mitzvot more than all the other 613.

There is an obvious problem here. If more than one mitzvah pertain to one limb, then there will not be enough to go around!

First, it should be known that there is a Mishna (Ohalot 1:8) that lists the 248 limbs of the body. There the Left Shoulder, by the way, consists of 4 limbs. Nevertheless, the Ari has already written in another place that the distribution of the mitzvot is not like the divisions of the limbs in Ohalot. The mitzvot correspond to a different aspect of the limbs and not to their actual structure per se.

It is not entirely clear to me what is this special obligation concerning the particular mitzvot of the limb in opposition to all the rest of the 613, since everyone is obligated to fulfill all the 613 mitzvot.

Moreover, I heard from my Teacher, may he rest in peace, that there are sparks that have been preceded by [other] sparks from the Root of his soul who fulfilled all the mitzvot. In contrast, there are sparks that have been preceded by sparks [from the Root of his soul] who did not fulfill the mitzvot that he also has not yet fulfilled.

The first type consists of sparks that are preceded by other sparks from the same Root. Those that preceded already fulfilled the mitzvot that the new one has to fulfill. It seems obvious that he will have an easier tikun because of the accomplishments of those that preceded him.

In contrast, the second type consists of sparks that have also been preceded by other sparks from the same Root. However, here the preceding sparks did not fulfill the mitzvot that the new one has come to do. It seems obvious that he will have a harder tikun than those of the first type because he is like someone who is breaking new ground.

Nevertheless, here too, it seems that Rabbi Chaim does not accept this seemingly obvious explanation.

However, I do not know what the difference between them is.

In the last section of this chapter, the Benei Aharon will suggest a solution to this difficulty.

Performance of the positive mitzvot has now been explained.

[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Elohi Rabbi Yitzchak, the
G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Elohi [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
Yitzchok bar Chaim is the pseudonym of the translator, an American-born Jerusalem scholar who has studied and taught Kabbala for many years. He may be contacted through: webmaster@kabbalaonline.org. He translated the Ari's work, "Shaar HaGilgulim;" his translation into English (but with much less extensive commentary than offered here). Information about his translation in book form may be obtained through www.thirtysevenbooks.com
Rabbi Chaim Vital c. 5303-5380 (c. 1543-1620 CE), major disciple of R. Isaac (Yitzchak) Luria, and responsible for publication of most of his works.
Shabtai Teicher, a descendant of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Reshab, was born in Brooklyn in 1946 and settled in Jerusalem in 1970. He studied for over 7 years with one of the outstanding and renowned kabbalists of our generation, Rabbi Mordechai Attieh, and also studied deeply in various other fields of Jewish scholarship. He was a specialist in Lurianic Kabbala, edited and annotated the first eleven chapters of our English rendition of "Shaar HaGilgulim," and completed his manuscripts for "Zohar: Old Man in the Sea," in both Hebrew and English, shortly before his unfortunate passing in November 2009.
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