“You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
In the essay on prophecy we have already written that what was said in the Torah about checking whether a prophet is false or true has fallen by the wayside. We showed that there is no logical way to check a prophet and that it is the sages who determine which type of prophet we are dealing with. The factual examination of whether the prophet’s words have come to pass or not is certainly a marginal and meaningless exercise. Since when does simple reality overwhelm what the sages say?
In this portion we will clarify that the prohibition written here, “You shall not add…or take anything away” also has no real meaning, for the sages are the ones who determine. Thus our Torah turns into something worthless which our rabbis turn into what they will, add to and take away from as they wish. As is our way, we will clarify and prove these our words.
From the plain meaning of the text we understand that it is forbidden to add any commandment and to take away from the commandments; only what is written has validity and is obligatory. But our rabbis have their own ways. Maimonides, in The Laws of Apostates chapter two, halacha nine: “Since the courts of law may take away and forbid that which the Torah permitted and that prohibition will stand for generations, and since they may allow that which is forbidden by the Torah as required by the times, why has the Torah warned us not to add anything to it nor take anything away from it? We are not to add anything to the words of the Torah, nor to diminish something from them, nor to determine forever something which concerns things from the Torah, be it Written or Oral.”
So adding or taking away refers only to the words of the sages, and we will explain this. See something strange: The Torah says, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” and according to the plain meaning only a kid is forbidden and only in its mother’s milk. Therefore one who forbids milk and cow’s meat must violate the prohibition against adding, but our rabbis interpret the words to mean, “You shall not add anything to what I command you” as though the “I” is what the sages explain, and it is to that “you shall not add”! That is, when it says “I” it means “we”! With astonished eyes we see how the Divine commandment is turned into a human one, and the Divine instruction “which I, G-d, command you” becomes “which we, a group of men, command you.” And who determined this astounding interpretation? That very same group of people.
And do not say that human interpretation is the word of G-d. We have already shown and proven in pamphlet 8 that most of the Oral Torah is from the opinion and knowledge of the sages and comes from no Divine source. It seems that the sages can add to and take away from the Torah based on their deductions. Go and see: Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yosi HaGlili disagreed about whether a wild animal’s meat in milk is forbidden by the Torah. In Tractate Hulin 113a Rabbi Akiva permits wild animal’s meat in milk and is violating the prohibition of taking away from a commandment according to Rabbi Yosi Haglili who forbids wild animal’s meat; there are many such examples. For instance, when the Torah says in Exodus 21:6, “And approach the door or the lintel,” the sages come and determine that only at the door may one pierce the slave’s ear; based on their approach this is not to be considered taking away from the commandment. Therefore, what is written in the Torah really neither adds nor takes away.
Not only that, but the sages narrow and reduce the prohibition “do not add” to specific instances, as the Raabad noted on the words of Maimonides: “And Abraham says, all these will sail with the wind… But the prohibition against adding applies only to positive commandments, such as lulav and tefillin and tzitzit.” In the Sefer haChinuch, commandment 454, it is written, “Most authorities say, however, that ‘you shall not add’ does not at all relate to anything but a positive precept…if a person puts two kosher tefillin on his head or his hand; so too if a person makes five frontlets in tefillin…This is the rule regarding this prohibition at which my master teachers, G-d protect them, arrived from the words of the Talmud after great toil.”
Who determines when one has violated “do not add?” The Gemara itself determines this; that is, the sages are the ones who determine not only the laws but the rules for determining the laws.
The Scriptures say: “You shall not add anything to what I command you…You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did in the matter of Baal Peor.” That is, the Scripture gives an example of when the people of Israel added to the words of the Torah and were punished for it. The addition was about a negative commandment, and nevertheless the Sefer haChinuch states that “do not add” is only about a positive commandment. This is what we say: the author of the Chinuch learned from the Gemara and thus ruled, and the words of the Torah were worthless to him. (See Sefer Yeraim, 371 for his opinion of when one violates “do not add.”)
But our rabbis contradict themselves and violate “do not add,” even according to what they established (that it refers only to positive commandments). Nachmanides, on Deuteronomy 4:2, wrote: “And to my mind, even if one invents a wholly new commandment, such as introducing a holiday in a month he chose on his own, as Jeroboam did (I Kings 12:33), by this he violates a prohibition. So they said about reading the megillah…for this commandment [reading the megillah] was forbidden to them.” According to Nachmanides the reading of the megillah, which is certainly a positive commandment, is included in the prohibition of “do not add,” but the sages learned from the Torah that it was permitted to them. How did they learn this? Using the method of learning from a minor premise to a major one. We will immediately mention that learning from a minor premise to a major one is a method of learning which arises from the deduction and knowledge of the sages, as brought in pamphlet 8. In Tractate Megillah 14a it says, “It says that there were 48 Jewish prophets and seven Jewish prophetesses and they did not take away from nor add to what was written in the Torah aside from the reading of the megillah. From where did they learn this? Rabbi Joshua the son of Korcha said they learned it from a minor premise to a major one, for when they went from captivity to freedom they offered a song [at Passover we read the Hallel], from death to life [because the Jews were saved from Haman’s death sentence] should they not?” Even Nachmanides, in the first root, quotes the Jerusalem Talmud which we mentioned in pamphlet 8, “This megillah was said to Moses at Sinai, but there is no chronological order to the Torah.” So you see that it is sufficient that the sages explain something from their own deduction and the prohibition “do not add” is thrown out the window. And more: Rashi wondered, “And if you ask about the Chanukah candles? At that time there were already no prophets.” Rashi asks how they determined the law of lighting Chanukah candles as a permanent halacha and answers that the sages determined it, not the prophets, and about these words of Rashi’s the Maharsha says: “For on the Chanukah candles the sages found a hint in the Torah.”
This is as we have said: It is enough for the sages to come and give some explication and the Biblical prohibition of “do not add” is nullified.
To add and illustrate the matter more, see what the Chinuch wrote above, that there is a prohibition of “do not add” against one who puts on two kosher pairs of tefillin; the Chida in his book Machzik Bracha, section 34, wrote about those who simultaneously put on both tefillin of Rashi and of Rabbeynu Tam, “According to the words of our rabbi the Ari z”l, both are pleasing and holy…but it is a misformulation of the Zohar, and the true formulation is…’And since the people of the last generations are not experts, they treat the two pairs of tefillin as a subject of a doubt [that is, they think one of them is kosher, but they don’t know which of them], and they do not know the secret, that both are required’.” So you see, the Torah says, “and they shall be totafot between your eyes,” they being a single pair. The Zohar comes and says that we really need two. Thus falls the prohibition of the Chinuch because of the power of the Zohar’s secret and none of the G-d-fearing people shouts to the heavens that this is a clear and explicit violation of “do not add”! We will recall that we have already written in the portion of Ki Tisa that the Zohar adds a prohibition of its own (not even learned by analogy) about the eating of meat after milk.
The Torah, in Leviticus 23:24, says, “Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” We celebrate a two day holiday of Rosh Hashanah. We cannot say that we do so because of doubt, for it is written in Mahzor Vitry, section 320, “The two days of Rosh Hashanah are not from the Scripture, but nevertheless they have the same holiness…but the two days of Rosh Hashanah, which were established during the time of the Temple, are a commandment which spread through the whole Jewish people, and therefore this matter has a status as though it were given at Sinai and both days have the same holiness, for they were not established due to a doubt.” The testimony of the Vitry is that it is enough for the sages and the community of believers to accept upon themselves an additional holiday which is not from the Scripture at all for it to become a holy day and none fears violating “do not add.”
We are told that Jeroboam ben Nebat (about whom Chazal said that he sinned and caused the people of Israel to sin), when he innovated a new holiday, violated the prohibition “do not add.” Why? Because the sages did not accept it. But they added an extra day to Rosh Hashanah on their own and this is not a violation of “do not add.” Why? Because this was agreed to by the sages. Go and see–what determines and what is a holy commandment and what is a disgraceful sin? It is not the explicit words of the Torah which determine but the opinion of the sages.
And this is an absolute sign that we do not live according to the Torah. For what is written in Deuteronomy 17:11 contradicts all that has been said elsewhere in the Torah in saying, “You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.” So it is not according to what is written in the Torah, but according to what “they announce to you” in each generation. It should not be amazing that Chazal jumped on this as though they had found great treasure and immediately ruled that one must listen to and obey them when they say “left is right and right is left.”
We will continue to stand and clarify this command, not to deviate from the words of the sages, in the portion of Shoftim. It is a worthwhile endeavor for any who pursue truth to look well at what is written there, for this topic is one of the foundations of Judaism and requires elucidation and clarification, for it is the main point and the testimony, and the proof that we do not live according to the written Torah but according to the words of the sages. People and only people are those who determine, based on their own knowledge, the halachot which govern our lives in each generation; the mouth which forbids and the mouth which permits are flesh and blood in all aspects.
Words of True Knowledge