Rules for Mizvot- Rabbi Avraham Danzig

Once upon a time, Eastern European Jews spoke of Torah and Mizvot, not halakhah. One studies Torah and performs mizvot. The halakhah was in the codes and the mizvah was the performance in the moment. This performance had to have a balance, follow rules, and involve the whole individual. For R. Hayyim of Volozhin, mizvot affected the higher worlds, sustained the cosmos, and were for the sake of God. For Chabad, mizvot were to connect oneself to God.

In time for Elul, here is a performance list of mizvot written by Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820), author of the Hayyei Adam (Chai Adom)(1804), which was the Lithuanian halakhah work for 150 years. I found a translation earlier this year by Reuven Brauner and decided it would be a good post. The translation below was checked against the original in siman 68 here, it is based on his but modified when needed.

25 Rules For Performing Mitzvot

1. ONE MUST NOT PASS OVER A MITZVAH THATCOMES TO YOUR HAND FIRST TO PERFORM ANOTHER MITZVAH
One must perform whichever Mitzvoh he comes across first. One must not leave one Mitzvoh aside to perform another Mitzvoh, even if he intends to perform the first one at a later time. Certainly, one must not set one Mitzvoh aside to perform another one and not return and do the first. Example: Although one should put his Tallis on before putting on his Tefillin, if he pulls his Tefillin out of his bag first, he should put them on before his Tallis.

2. A MITZVAH MUST NOT BE TREATED IN A DISGRACEFL MANNER
This means that:
a) One should not perform a Mitzvah in a light-headed manner and in a dishonorable way.
b) One should not be ashamed of or embarrassed about performing a Mitzvah. Nor should one be concerned about getting his hands dirty.
c) One should not derive ancillary benefit from the object used performing a Mitzvah while he is performing the Mitzvah. Thus, one cannot use his Tzitzit while they are attached to the Tallit to tie something.

3. MITZVOT MUST NOT BE GROUPED TOGETHER
Two Mitzvot must not be performed together as one since he will be unable to perform each one with the same level of attentiveness.
Example: The same cup of wine should not be used for both Birkas Hamozon and Sheva Brochos.

4. WHEN IN THE MIDST OF PERFORMING ONE MITZVOH, ONE IS EXEMPT FROM PERFORMING ANOTHER ONE

This is true if any effort must be invested in order to perform the second mitzvah. But, if no special effort is involved in performing the second mitzvah then, it too, must be done. The Rambam and the Geonim disagree and say that one is exempt from the second mitzvah even if there is no effort involved in order to perform it.

Example #1: “Agents of Mitzvoh” (Shilichei Mitzvoh) are exempt from sitting in a Succah,. This applies even at night when they are not traveling,

5. ONE SHOULD PERFORM MITZVOT IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WAY HE CAN
One should be invested in every mitzvah with all his strength to perform it in the most pleasant way possible.
One should always pick the best and choicest object available to perform the mitzvot.

6. ONE SHOULD PERFORM THE MITZVAH AT THE EARLIEST TIME POSSIBLE

7. IT IS BETTER TO PERFORM A MITZVAH YOURSELF THAN BY MEANS OF AN AGENT

8. ONE SHOULD ALWAYS PERFORM THE ENTIRE MITZVOH AND NOT JUST A PORTION OF IT
If one begins a mitzvah, it is he who should complete it. Chazal have said that a mitzvah is “called by the name” of the one who completes it.

9. ONE SHOULD INTENT TO FULFILL ONE’S OBLIGATION AS WE ESTABLISHED “MIZVOT REQUIRE INTENTION (KAVVANAH)”This refers to a Torah Commandment. However, a Rabbinical Commandment does not require intention to fulfill it.
Someone who performs a mitzvah expressly not to fulfill it, does not fulfill it.
Examples: One does not fulfill his requirement if he merely read Krias Shma or Remembered Amalek without intent of performing a Mitzvoh. But, if he blew Shofar (for music), or ate Matzoh (not knowing that it is Pesach), or waved a Lulav and Esrog in the Halochically-correct manner, even without the intent of fulfilling a Mitzvoh, he fulfills the Mitzvoh.
EVEN ACCORDING TO THE ONE WHO SAYS THAT MITZVOT DO NOT REQUIRE INTENTION, THAT IS ONLY FOR AN ACTION BUT FOR A MIZVAH THAT IS ONLY WORDS, EVERYONE AGREES THAT IT NEEDS INTENTION.

10. A MITZVAH MUST NOT COME ABOUT AS A RESULT OF A TRANSGRESSION

11. ANY MITZVAH WHICH CAN BE PERFORMED AS A GROUP WITH OTHER PEOPLE SHOULD BE DONE WITH OTHERS AND NOT ALONE AS IT SAYS “THE KING’S GLORY IS WITH MULTITUDES “(Proverbs 14:28)

12. ONE SHOULD PERFORM A MITZVOH METICULOUSLY WITH ALL ITS DETAILS AND PARTICULARS

13. ONE SHOULD HAVE NO GREATER JOY THAN IN THE PERFORMANCE OF A MITZVAH

14. ONE SHOULD RUN AFTER AND PURSUE MITZVOT

15. ONE SHOULD BE EAGER AND ANTICIPATE FOR THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY TO PERFORM A MITZVAH

16. ONE SHOULD PREFERABLY NOT DO A MITZVAH WITHOUT PAYING

17. ONE SHOULD PERFORM MITZVOHS BECAUSE OF HIS LOVE OF GOD-NOT FOR AN ULTERIER MOTIVE FOR THIS WORLDLY BENEFIT.
He should not perform a mitzvah because he feels obligated to do so and wishes to absolve himself of it, and it is a burden for him. Rather he should perform the mitzvah out of love.and feel that even if he would not have been commanded to perform it, he would have yearned to do it in order to give pleasure to God.

18. ONE SHOULD ALSO PERFORM MITZVOT OUT OF AWE
Even rational Mitzvot, such as Positive Commandments like Charity and Honoring Parents, and Negative Precepts such as Theft and Illicit Relations should not be performed or avoided because one believes they are rational. Rather, he should perform them because of his fear of the God Who commanded him to observe these matters.

19. ONE MUST PERFORM A MITZVOT EVEN IF HE HAS TO SPEND A TENTH OF HIS WEALTH

20. ONE SHOULD PARTICULARLY DO THOSE MITZVOT OTHER PEOPLE ARE NOT DOING
If we neglect them, these Mitzvot cry out, “How terrible we must be that we have been forsaken!” and become Accusers against us.

21. THINGS MAY ASCEND IN HOLINESS, BUT MAY NOT DESCEND FROM HOLINESS
For this reason worn-out “Objects of Holiness” are archived, such as old Mezuzahs, Tefillin and their straps and bags, and certainly Sifrei Torah. However, “Objects Used for a Mitzvah” must not be used for something ignominious such as using a worn Tallit for some secular purpose.

22. A POSITIVE COMMANDMENT DEFERS A NEGATIVE COMMANDMENT, BUT ONE POSITIVE COMMANDMENT DOES NOT DEFER A POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE COMMANDMENT

23. IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ADD A NEW MITZVAH TO THE EXISTING MITZVOHS
This is only true if one intentionally wishes to “add” a Mitzvah, such as saying that it is a Mitzvah to sit in the Succah on Shemini Atzeres or or if one wears both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin simultaneously and says that both are Kosher. However, if one merely sits in the Succah on Shemini Atzeres or eats because of the doubt that this might actually be the Seventh Day or wears both pairs of Tefillin because he is in doubt and says that if one is Kosher then the other is not, it is permitted.

One may not add to a mitzvah, such as adding a fifth string to his Tzitzis or a fifth section to his Tefillin. Just as it is forbidden to add to the Mitzvot, it is forbidden to subtract from the Mitzvohs, such as making Tzitzis out of three strings or taking only three species on Succos.

24. LAW OF THE BRANCH
A mitzvah may have a “Branch”, defined as a second mitzvah which should be performed before he performs the first one. Now, if the Branch does not, post factum, hinder the performance of the first mitzvah, then he should do the Branch mitzvah first, if he can. But, if he has no possibility of doing the Branch mitzvah first, and since it is not a hindrance to the performance of the first mitzvah, he may perform the first mitzvah straight-away.
Example: When bringing a Sacrifice, Semichoh (laying of the hands) must antecede slaughtering, but if it was not done, it will not disqualify the validity of the Sacrifice.

25. THE ONE WHO PERFORMS MITZVOT PROPERLY WILL KNOW NO EVIL DUE TO THE MITZVAH
One should not do mitzvot hastily and abruptly. Rather, he should perform them cautiously and with forethought. One should prepare himself in advance for their performance and not do them hurriedly and in a sudden rush, for one who does so will be unable to perform the mitzvah properly.
That is why we say “Behold I am ready and prepared to do the mizvah”(hineni muchan umezuman). And that why we call the God of Israel not to enter into the mizvah suddenly.

(The capital and lower case usage in this list does not correspond to the block and Rashi script of the original text, unless it made a difference in meaning I left Reuven Brauner’s eclectic use of large and small cases.- see the original here siman 68.)

6 responses to “Rules for Mizvot- Rabbi Avraham Danzig

  1. Looking at the first (1809 – online), second (1819 – online), and 9th (1844 – at home) editions, the list was originally a bit shorter. It started with 23 items, in the 2nd edition he added the 24th (branches of mitzvot), and in the more modern editions (the first two were published before his death in 1820), he added the 25th item, the reward for keeping mitzvot properly. Are there notes as to why he changed things between editions? Do his own copies of his books exist, with annotations?

  2. Jon,
    Thank you for doing the leg work.
    Because of his importance there is literature about him. From Rashi Fuenn’s overview to R. Hayyim Lieberman’s (Rh”l) article on changes between editions, especially the introduction.He did indeed keep changing his works.
    Here are two recent articles:
    מאיר, מרדכי
    הרב אברהם דאנציג : מפעלו הספרותי שלא ראה אור. ‬ ‫ סידרא יח (תשסג) 41-52 ‬
    ‫ גולדרט, א.י. ‬ ‫ על הספר “חיי אדם” ומחברו. ‬ ‫ סיני עא (תשלב) 270-293 ‬
    He deserves a full dissertation-book. In the meantime, the 1972 article is the best place to start.

  3. lawrence kaplan

    Number 18 concerning performing rational commandments out of awe contradicts what the Rambam states in Eight Chapters: Chapter 6.

  4. Someone just referred me to this site because I wrote a few years ago on that klal in the chayei adam. https://sites.google.com/site/jsnsefer/

  5. Someone told me this weekend that a friend of his was almost done with a translation of the whole Chayei Adam. I don’t have any more details, like who, or how it will be published.

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