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How many mitzvot can i keep?


Rabbi David Sperling

Av 18, 5778
Dear Rabbi, There are many mitzvot that are specific to gender, location and having a beit hamikdash. I was wondering on the following question: How many mitzvot is a man who is living outside of Israel practically able to keep?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. Your question is not an easy one to answer. Firstly there are different countings of the 613 commandments altogether. Secondly, each person will be confronted by different situations that will determine the number of commands they can keep. If you don't employ a worker you cannot fulfill the command of paying a worker on time. If you have a doorway you can do the mitzvah of mezzuzah. Thirdly, different people will also have a different count – for example a cohen will an additional mitzvah to bless the people; a judge on a Bet Din has additional commands. The Hafetz Haim wrote a book called “The concise book of mitzvot”in which he lists 77 positive and 194 negative mitzvot from the Torah that apply today. The Sh'lah also made a count. (On the Chabad website they quote him as follows). Of the 248 positive commands in the Torah, only 126 are applicable today. Of the 365 negative commands, only 243 are applicable. That is 369 together. However, many of those are conditional – for example the mitzvah to return a stolen object is conditional on have first stolen (which is a sin of course – so we hope you never get into a situation where you get to keep that mitzvah!). Only 48 positive mitzvot and 222 negative mitzvot apply to every Jew today. (Of course this number depends on your situation – if you own a house with an accessible roof you will have an additional mitzvah of putting a fence around it; if you slaughter an animal you will have a mitzvah to do so according to the laws of kosher slaughter etc). In addition there are many mitzvot that are Rabbinic in nature that add to the number. For example lighting the Hanukah lights. Also, many Torah commands are today only fulfilled Rabbinically – for example eating bitter herbs on Passover night, which is in essence a Torah command, but today because we lack the Passover sacrifice, is only a Rabbinic decree. If we add these mitzvot the list becomes much longer. Also, there are mitzvot that although being counted as one mitzvah actually are many separate acts. For example to visit the sick, be kind, help people are all part of the same command to walk in the ways of G-d (Duet 28,9), even though they have many distinct acts. You mentioned that you are interested in the count for a Jew living outside the land of Israel. Of course you are aware that a Jew living in Israel has a much bigger count. In an addendum to Hafetz Haim's work they have added 26 mitzvot that apply today in Israel. To that we should also add the fact that many commands that theoretically apply also outside the land take on a greater practicality in Israel, where one lives constantly amongst Jews. Also, according to many great Rabbis, including the Ranban, the true fulfillment of all the commands is only in the land of Israel, where the mitzvot take on a special holiness and higher level of fulfillment. May you merit to fulfill many many mitzvot – and be blessed to constantly grow in Torah. I hope this is of some help.
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