Do's and don't's

What has priority: Positive commands or negative ones?

Danny Ginsbourg, | updated: 07:27

Judaism yeshiva students
yeshiva students

We read in our parsha (3:2-5) that Moshe Rabenu (Moses), after seeing the miraculous vision of the bush that was burning, but was not consumed, ‘turned aside to look at this great sight’ and was commanded by Hashem: ’Do not come any closer to here, and remove your shoes from your feet, for the place that you stand on is holy ground’.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, noting that the land on which Moshe was standing was already ‘holy ground’ asks: Should Moshe not have been first commanded to remove his shoes, to ‘remedy’ his present ‘offence’, and only THEN, to come no closer?

He answers: ׳Hashem in the entire Torah ‘reveals’ that his ‘main’ הקפדה ומוסר:’insistence’, is on מצוות לא תעשה: prohibitions, as the breach of them יחבול הנפש:’damages’ the soul; מצוות עשה: positive Mitzvot, on the other hand, whilst doing them ‘benefits’ and sanctifies the person, not doing them does not ‘damage the soul’.
‘Therefore, Hashem gave Moshe Rabenu two mitzvot: the מצות לא תעשה: the prohibition to come nearer; AND the מצות עשה: the positive Mitzvah to remove his shoes.

Had Moshe proceeded, he would have transgressed the prohibition; on the other hand, had he not removed his shoes, although it would have been disrespectful, it would have ‘only’ been a transgression of the positive mitzvah, to remove his shoes’.

To teach us the ‘correct’ order between these categories of Mitzvot, Moshe was commanded first to observe the prohibition, and then to perform the positive commandment.

Rav Pinchas Friedman brings a ‘source’ to this teaching, from the words of David Hamelech(Ps’ 34:15)סור מרע ועשה טוב׳‘:’Turn from evil, do good’.

Expounds the Rav:This teaches us that first we need to abstain from transgressing prohibitions, and, only then, ‘doing good’: performing positive Mitzvot.

Whilst this is the ‘rule’ in judging the severity of transgressions; the opposite is the case in the order of the performance of Mitzvot.

The Ramban (Yitro 20:8) expounds that, as a rule, the performance of positive Mitzvot takes precedence over negative Mitzvot.

In commenting on why, in the Mitzvah of Shabbat, in the first Luchot, we are given a positive commandment: זכור, remember, whilst in the second Luchot the commandment is שמור, guard: a prohibition against transgressing, he says:’זכור alludes to a מצות עשה: a positive commandment, that derives from love and therefore to the attribute of רחמים: mercy, because he who fulfills the commandment of his Master, is beloved in His eyes.

‘שמור is a prohibition, which derives from יראה: fear and the attribute of דין. The fear of doing that which is bad in the eyes of his master, lies behind it.

‘Therefore positive commandments are ‘greater’: גדולה, than negative prohibitions, just as love is ‘greater’ than fear’.

May we always perform all of Hashem’s mitzvot, be they positive or negative, out of love, and gratitude for our great zechut to have received His commandments!

לרפואת נעם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.