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One often hears someone Jewish saying, it's a mitzvah! usually referring to a charitable, beneficial act performed by another person. Yet Mitzvah is a Hebrew word which means commandment - one of the 613 commandments, relating to Jewish observance and religious practice. The mitzvot – plural for Mitzvah - are derived from the Bible.
What are the Mitzvot
Commandments are the centerpiece of Judaism because they are where faithfulness to G-d and the Torah translates into action! Every sphere of human activity falls under the Torah's authority. From rising in the morning to retiring at night, from birth until death, the commandments encompass every area of Jewish life. Judaism divides the mitzvot into two categories: ben adam l’makom: the human being and God and ben adam l’havero: between one person and another. Laws between man and man are logical: We all understand the need for these commandments, for instance not to kill. Even when Mitzvot between man and G-d are above logic for some of us, such as performing a Brith Milah and other rituals we are expected to follow them. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G-d. Mitzvah observance gives the promise of living an enlightened and meaningful existence. A list of the 613 Mitzvoth commandments is based primarily on the list compiled by Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, also called Maimonides. There are 248 Positive Mitzvot - what you have to do, and 365 Negative Mitzvot – things you are not supposed to do. Many relate to the Mitzvah of to love our fellow human beings as the most important one. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am G-d. Leviticus 19:18. According to Jewish tradition, as G-d gave the Jewish people the 613 commandments all of those mitzvot are equally sacred, equally binding and equally the word of G-d.