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When A "Mitzva" Is Really A Sin

The Rambam was a prolific writer. He was also an unparalleled genuis which is evident not only in the content of his writings but also in his clarity of prose and his uncanny ability to organize topics.

My all-time favorite is the laws of teshuva [repentance]. It must be learned and relearned constantly. Teshuva is a mitzva that applies 24/7 - not only in Elul and Tishrei.

One of the striking passages in Hilchos Teshuva is where the Rambam teaches that having faulty character is not merely a vice but an actual SIN. We often consider someone religious if he keeps the laws and view good character as a plus. Not the Rambam! According to the Rambam having defective character is an actual sin which necessitates a process of teshuva like any other sin.

Moreover the Rambam gives two examples of sin which made me jump out of my socks [elastic on top of socks notwithstanding]. "Rediphas Hamamon Uridaphas Hama'achalos" - Running after money and running after food.

Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!! Those are mitzvos! The more the better. How can the Rambam call the relentless pursuit of money and gastronomic pleasure sinful???

Answer: Because they are. Period. We are in this world for a higher spiritual purpose and if one is excessively involved and immersed in the purely physical he is living a sinful life, even if he learns Torah daily, never slanders his fellow, eats glatt kosher and [one of the greatest mitzvos] doesn't have a television at home. Still, a life of "rediphas hamamon v'hamaachalos" is sinful. Everything must be kept within proportion. Of course there is a mitzva to earn a living and to eat but those must never become the ultimate focus of our lives. There is a memorable passage in the Chovos Halevavos where Rabbeinu Bachaye laments the fact that people "deify their stomachs".

A different perspective.

Very Un-American.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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