This week’s parasha ends the historical introduction to Moshe’s speech and starts the review of the mitzvot. He presents an important principle:
In the ספר הזכרון for Rav Hutner, there is an interesting letter that he sent:
I assume that הגרמ״ד ריבקין is Rabbi Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and father of St. Louis’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Sholom Rivkin. I do not have the text of the קונטרס that Rav Hutner is reviewing, but he makes some interesting points about the mitzvah of בל תוסיף.
What is that mitzvah? Rashi explains:
However, the mitzvah is presented twice in the Torah, once in our parasha, and once in פרשת ראה:
And Rashi explains it similarly:
The Sifrei, however, only explains it in פרשת ראה. It is ignored here in פרשת ואתחנן.
The Vilna Gaon proposes that there really are two different mitzvot: don’t add a new commandment (in ואתחנן) and don’t add details to the existing commandments (in ראה):
Rav Hutner says that his correspondent claims to disagree with the Vilna Gaon:
But Rav Hutner says that this reflects a misunderstanding in the Gaon:
This needs further analysis. Why would adding a new mitzvah, שאין ההוספה שייכת למצוה ממצות מהתורה, be a מעשה שטות בעלמא rather than a sin? There is a principle that a נביא cannot add a new mitzvah:
But it would seem that this is a limit on נבואה. I cannot claim that G-d came to me and told me that He is adding a new commandment. If I say, without claiming נבואה, that the Torah wants us to eat green beans on Tuesday, then people would just laugh at me. That is a מעשה שטות. I have no authority (if I do have authority, then things are different. We will see this later).
The Rambam, though, connects the נביא rule to בל תוסיף:
So, according to the Rambam, there is a מצוה לא תעשה of בל תוסיף, that applies to everyone, even a certified prophet. חז״ל have the authority to create גזרות, but it must be clear that those are not מצוות שאורייתא:
And this is important enough to be one of the 13 fundamental principles of faith:
So how do I understand Rav Hutner?
The mitzvah in ואתחנן is addressed to “חז״ל”., those with Rabbinic Authority to instruct others (who has that authority is a huge question, that I will not address here): “Thou shalt not gaslight בני ישראל”.
Rav Hutner doesn’t explain the argument between Rambam and Yosef Albo (15th century author of Sefer ha-‘Ikkarim), or how it relates to our mitzvah. But I would like to speculate. We saw Rambam’s formulation of the ninth principle, that בל תוסיף is the source of תורת משה לא תהיה נְסוּחָה. Albo disagrees:
Albo agrees that the Torah as given to Moshe will never be changed in the future; he just says that this is not an עיקר; you are not a heretic if you disagree. You are simply wrong.
How does that connect to בל תוסיף? I think Rav Hutner is saying is that the argument between Rambam and Albo is about the meaning of בל תוסיף. Rambam says that violating בל תוסיף, claiming that there is some new law of the Torah, is a claim that הקב״ה is not perfect, that He needs to change. This is heresy.
Albo says that telling הקב״ה what to do is beyond our pay grade. בל תוסיף is not about limiting ה׳'s power, it is (in the Vilna Gaon’s model) about our responsibility as human beings. It is about הוראה. ה׳ has given us ownership, as it were, of His Will. בל תוסיף is about recognizing where that power comes from, and acknowledging that אמת is not something that we create of our own volition.
לא תספו על הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם is a statement of the Spiderman principle: with great power comes great responsibility.