No means Yes. (Gevurah Part II)

I confess now to having had a difficulty understanding a certain tendency in Jewish Law. It wasn’t a problem with any specific Halacha or verse.  Rather, I had wondered why so much in the Torah was about “Thou shalt not…”.

In the 613 Mitzvos listed, 248 are called Positive, i.e. “Do this”, 365 are “Negative.”, “Don’t do this”. A quick survey shows that even quite a few of the “positive” commandments are actually negative commandments reinforced in positive language. For example, all the verses that say Do no work on the Sabbath, Yom Kippur or any of the Festivals are reinforced with positive commandments to rest on those days.

I had wondered why the truths of the world, and of Jewish behavior, had to phrased negatively. We don’t like the word negative. A sure way to condemn someone’s behaviors or attitudes is to accuse them of being negative. All the parenting and educational experts are all about avoiding the word “No”, and redirecting instead. Etc. Let me be clear: I didn’t resent the restrictions. I had just wondered why prohibition is the vehicle for Truth and Divinity.

Because it’s clear that this is true: The Almighty reveals Himself more often by telling us what NOT to do than by telling us what TO do.

What are we to make of that?

I’ll tell you tomorrow what insights I have collected on this question.


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