(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis

Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 19:13:27 -0400 (EDT)
From: Russell Hendel <  rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu>
Subject: Re: Laws of Family Purity

QUESTION: Is there such a thing as a "vital Commandment". We say
that "Shabbath, Family Purity, and Kashruth are "important vital" laws
But the idea of "very important, even vital" is  very
disturbing. It is everywhere I turn lately [it seems] and I have been
taught that I cannot leave off performing a mitzvah in order to perform
another "more important" one simply because I am not the judge of the
relative importance of mitzvot. All are from Hashem, all have merit, none
is relatively less...>  >

This question is well founded--in fact Rashi on Dt 7:12 agrees with these
sentiments! But if so, what is the answer? Is it totally meaningless---as
Rashi  seems to suggest-- to claim that certain Mitzvoth are "vital"?

An answer however can be found by examining the consequences of a sin/
commandment. For example if I wear SHAATNEZ (Wool and Linen) then I AM NOT
likely to violate any other commandment. BUT, if I don't STUDY the laws of
Passover then I AM likely to violate the Passover laws since I don't fully
know them. Hence the sin of not studying leads to other sins while the sin
of wearing SHAATNEZ usually doesn't. Thus we might say that STUDY is MORE

Thus our proposed definition of VITAL is that a commandment is VITAL if it
USUALLY LEADS to performance of other commandments and avoidance of sin. A
commandment is not VITAL if its performance is usually observed by itself
and not affecting other performances.

So we can easily see that LEARNING is the MOST VITAL commandment. SHABBATH
is VITAL because by taking off one day a week and going to synagogue and
learning sessions we have the chance to devote one seventh of our time to
learning and adhering to Judaism. FAMILY PURITY IS VITAL since the
easiest way to abstain 1-2 weeks every month is by devoting myself either
to community activities or learning. A couple who does not observe FAMILY
PURITY is continuously thinking of "how to be with each other" and
therefore loses needed time for learning and involvement in the Jewish

I hope this very brief introduction is helpful.

Russell Hendel; Phd; ASA; RHendel@Towson.Edu;
Moderator Rashi is Simple, http://www.shamash.org/rashi/