No more no less, is an aphorism that implies that you are doing just fine. There is no need to adjust. You are on the right path, headed in the right direction, and at the right speed. You don’t need to do more than you are already doing, and you don’t need to do less. No more no less.
Let me tell you a story that carries a powerful moral of no more no less.
A Fateful Night
This story occurred in Dnipro, Ukraine, in the home of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. At the time, Rabbi Schneerson served as the chief rabbi of this large metropolis and actively promoted and assisted Jewish individuals, causes, and institutions in the community. This was during the Soviet Era was religion practice was outlawed and, because of his efforts on behalf of Judaism, Rabbi Schneerson ran afoul of the authorities.
On April 2, 1939, the dreaded knock on the door was heard late at night. Everyone in the Soviet Union knew that such knocks could only mean that the Secret Police was there to harass or imprison you. In Rabbi Schneerson’s case there could be no question that they meant to arrest him.
They spent several hours examining the premises and collecting evidence before taking him away. Word reached several members of the community that their beloved rabbi was in danger, and they paid him a visit. They were right to come because Rabbi Schneerson was indeed imprisoned that night and would never again return to Dnipro. He was sentenced to five years in exile, and he passed away in his place of exile shortly after serving out his sentence.
That night, Rabbi Schneerson shared a teaching with his closest friends that served as a signpost for them in the coming years. The gist of the message was to do precisely as the Torah instructs, no more no less.
The End and The Beginning
He pointed out that the last word in the Torah is Yisrael, which ends with the letter lamed. The first word of the Torah is Bereshit, which begins with the letter bet. Taken together, Rabbi Schneerson explained, these two letters spell the Hebrew word bal, which means thou shall not. What shall thou not do?
Rabbi Schneerson proceeded to explain in his inimitably brilliant way.
The letter in the Hebrew alphabet before bet is alef and the letter before lamed is chaf. Taken together, these two letters, lamed and chaf, spell the Hebrew word, ach, which means, however.
Bal—thou shall not say, ach—however. The message explained Rabbi Schneerson, is to never make excuses for not fulfilling the instructions of the Torah. Don’t say, I know that the Torah requires me to be honest, however, in these circumstances even G-d would understand if I cheated a little. Never do less than the Torah tells you to do no matter how hard circumstances might be.
I know that the Torah wants me to observe Shabbat, however, in these circumstances even G-d would understand that it is too difficult. I know that the Torah prohibits gossip, however, this morsel is so juicy and important that the Torah would surely allow me this one indiscretion. I know that the Torah requires me to send my children to a Jewish day school, however, the cost is so prohibitive that G-d surely gives me license to send them to public school.
Bal—thou shall not say, ach—however.
Rabbi Schneerson didn’t stop there. He continued to explain that the letter in the Hebrew alphabet after bet is gimel and the letter after lamed is mem. Taken together, these two letters, gimel and mem, spell the Hebrew word, gam, which means also.
Bal—thou shall never say, gam—also. The message explained Rabbi Schneerson, is to never say, the Torah is missing a few important values and obligations, so I will add them to the Torah. Perhaps the Torah missed the ball on gender identity, so I will write these values into the Torah. Perhaps the Torah was not so clear about equality and equity, so let me embellish the Torah.
The Torah is perfect as it is. You cannot perfect upon perfection. Any attempt at adding to the Torah, mars its perfection. When you attempt to add, you actually decrease.
Bal—thou shall never say, gam—the Torah is great, but I will add this or that.
With these words, Rabbi Schneerson took leave of his family and friends and left for prison. This message strengthened the Jewish community of Dnipro in his absence. They knew that if they remained staunchly committed to the teachings of the Torah, no more no less—making no excuses and never embellishing it either, G-d would have their back. They would survive.
This week, we chanted the last section of the Torah on Simchat Torah, and turned immediately to the first section of the Torah. This Shabbat we will read the entire first section of the Torah, Bereshit. This is the week that stitches the end of the Torah to its beginning and the last letter of the Torah to the first.
Rabbi Schneerson taught us the message of no more no less. He taught us to commit ourselves to the Torah without detracting from it or enhancing it.
As we begin to chant the Torah anew, let us resolve to take the Torah at face value and believe in its perfection. Let us believe that there is nothing in the Torah that is beyond us—that we are not capable of accomplishing. Let us also believe that there is nothing in the Torah that needs to be improved.
The Torah’s values and way of life are perfect and do not need to be modernized, streamlined, or brought into conformity with the contemporary age.
Its teachings are timeless and compellingly relevant at every time and in every place. Even if we encounter Torah values that are not in line with contemporary values, we will do and believe precisely as it instructs, no more no less.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.