Most people appreciate it when a friend does something extra for them, beyond what is required. Strangely, the Torah seems to contradict this concept! It commands (4:2), “Lo Tosifu Al HaDavar Asher Anochei Metzvaveh Etchem VeLo Tigre’u Mimenu,” “Do not add on to the thing that I am commanding you and do not detract from it.” Why would Hakodosh Baruch Hu not want us to add to the Mitzvot? Would that not further show our devotion to Him?
The Dubno Maggid answers with a Mashal: There was once a man who, whenever he borrowed an item from his neighbor, would return the item with more of the same. If he borrowed a spoon, he would return two spoons; if he borrowed bowls or platters, he would return twice as many as he had borrowed. One day, his neighbor asked the borrower, “How come you always return two of what I lend to you?” The borrower answered seriously, “When I bring each item into my house, it becomes pregnant and gives birth to another like it!” One day, the borrower asked his neighbor if he could borrow his silver Menorah for Chanukah. The neighbor gladly handed him the Menorah, thinking to himself, “Tomorrow I’ll get another Menorah!” However, the Menorah was never returned, even after several days. When the neighbor asked the borrower what had happened, the latter answered, “I’m very sorry, but when I brought the Menorah into my house, it died.” The neighbor, astonished, exclaimed, “But a Menorah can’t just die!” The borrower replied, “Well, spoons don’t just give birth and have children either. If you are going to believe me about the spoon giving birth, you have to believe my claim that the Menorah died.”
If we are Mosif – if we add to too much –we will eventually come to be Gorei’a, to detract.
Based on this prohibition, the Rashba in his commentary to Rosh Hashanah wonders how Chazal could institute the blowing of extra Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. After all, the minimal number of times, according to the Torah, that one is required to blow the Shofar is only nine; does blowing one hundred not violate this prohibition of Bal Tosif? Furthermore, we may ask, how can Chazal instruct us not to blow the Shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat? Does this not violate Bal Tigra?
The Rashba teaches that the Mitzvah applies only to an individual, because on his own he will come to do absurd things. For example, one might think it is a good idea to wear Tefillin on Shabbat, but even though he may have the best intentions, he is starting down a slippery slope, and hence he violates the prohibition. Chazal, however, since they are perceptive enough not to make such mistakes, can decide to make a decree that adds or detracts in some way.
The ideas of the Duvno Maggid and the Rashba demonstrate that even though we might have good intentions, we still must not alter the Torah’s body of Mitzvot. Sometimes we feel that it is a good idea to be Machmir on every single little thing, without consulting our Rav for guidance. However, this may lead us to be like the borrower, to say to ourselves, “It’s too much! Enough of all of this adding!” Eventually, like the borrower, we will come to detract from our fulfillment of the Mitzvot. Rav Nachman of Breslov sagely observed that if we come to be excessively Machmir upon ourselves, the Mitzvot will become a burden. Let us rather follow the Rambam, who develops the concept in Hilchot Dei’ot that one should keep to the “Shevil HaZahav,” the “golden” middle path. In so doing (and by consulting our Rav), we will prevent ourselves both from adding and from taking away.