When someone is aroused to do a mitzvah but does not
actually execute it, from laziness or the like, he has missed
out on an opportunity. But if he was unable to perform it due
to extenuating circumstances, the merit of the mitzvah he had
intended to do is credited to him.
You can accrue mountains of mitzvos every day, far more
than you could imagine. So don't despair . . .
Nachmani, one of the regulars at our minyan, was
absent for a long period due to illness. A friend who called
him up was told by his wife that one could not visit. A long
time passed before it became known that he had undergone
unsuccessful surgery and that he had been hospitalized in a
At this point, visits were very welcomed. A few of the
regulars got organized with Rav Avigdor and went to visit. En
route, they praised Nachmani's blessed activities in the
beis midrash, his constant efforts to put back the
siddurim and chumoshim to their designated
place after prayers, his quiet way of replacing burnt out
light bulbs, his adjustment of the clocks and so on -- all
this even though he was not an official gabbai.
When they reached the institution, they were directed to the
room where he lay. They had trouble recognizing him. He had
deteriorated, lost a great deal of weight and become so
debilitated that he could not even rise to the occasion by
sitting up in bed. In a weak voice, he expressed his joy at
the visit. He inquired if the sefer Torah in which an
error had been discovered on the last Shabbos before his
hospitalization had been corrected, and if the shiur
that had then been started was still holding out.
In contrast to his weak physical condition, his mind was
agile and active. The conversation flowed and the visitors
updated Nachmani with all the news of the community members.
Had it not been for his subdued tone of voice, the visitors
would have almost forgotten that they were talking to a
bedridden friend who was virtually incapacitated.
Suddenly, Nachmani turned to the Rov and, with a beclouded
expression, asked, "What will be with me? In my state, I can
hardly perform any mitzvah. One of my sons comes every
morning to put on tefillin for me and then I recite an
abridged form of the prayers. And that's it.
"I don't do a thing all day, though my head works fine, and I
keep thinking gloomy thoughts that depress me and leave me
hopelessly discouraged. I am afraid that the remainder of my
life will be empty and devoid of meaning, devoid of all
mitzvos. This thoughts terrifies me. How can I prepare fare
for my journey into the Hereafter?" At this point, his voice
faltered and he burst into tears.
Rav Avigdor pulled his chair over to Nachmani's bed, took his
hand lovingly between his own palms, and said, "Nachmani!
What's the matter with you? Was the Torah only given to the
hale and hearty? Avodas Hashem is performed mainly in
the head through a person's thoughts and intentions! One can
lie in bed and serve Hashem most faithfully. Hashem sought to
bring merit to Jewry, and therefore gave them a bountiful
Torah with its commandments. Hashem prepared a treasure trove
full of mitzvah opportunities for every Jew, no matter what
his physical condition.
"In order to fulfill these commandments, one need not do a
single thing. For example, in the introduction to the
commandments forbidding abominations and impurities in
Vayikra, the Giver of the Torah guarantees to the
person who safeguards himself from them: `You shall live
through them, [as] I am Hashem.' This is a warranty signed by
Hashem as reward for refraining from doing. In the
mishna in Makkos it is stated in a general
manner: `Whoever refrains from committing a sin is given
reward as if he performed a mitzvah.'
"The Torah similarly promises in Devorim, `Hashem will
benefit you and your sons after you for doing what is
straight in the eyes of Hashem' (Devorim 6:18). One is
rewarded for refraining from eating blood and creeping and
crawling creatures, for instance, even though one is
naturally repelled by these. In fact, he certainly has no
need to overcome any particular desire for these things.
Nonetheless, whosoever does refrain from them because this is
the express will of Hashem, is privy to all the promises and
rewards which are lavished upon him and his descendants, in
this world and the next, even without his having lifted a
finger! All that is required is the positive intent of
performing Hashem's will.
"A non-Jew will also refrain from eating something repulsive
because it disgusts him, while a Jew who serves Hashem and
wills himself to refrain from them precisely because this is
the Divine will that has forbidden it, merits the bountiful
reward of fulfilling a command from the Torah. The plentiful
number of prohibitive commandments regarding things that a
normal person is not drawn to in the least because the very
idea revolts him, is expressing his submission to the will of
the G-d of Israel Who sought to increase the merit of His
people with the greatest possible opportunities to do so.
Fulfilling this will of Hashem is also considered a
"Isn't that marvelous?" said Nachmani, who had been listening
avidly all the while. "But in this institution, we are only
served kosher food and nothing repulsive like blood or
reptiles, so that I don't really have occasion to keep that
kind of mitzvah either."
"First of all, these prohibitions can present themselves to a
person in any place," explained Rav Avigdor. "Every kind of
food, be it a sweet or a fruit, that has the slightest
possibility of bug infestation or of a questionable
ingredient, already offers the opportunity of refraining from
eating it on account of the Torah and of being rewarded
immeasurably. Even if a person heard about, or thought about
a forbidden food, and in his mind firmly decided that he
would not partake of it under any circumstances because this
is the will of Hashem he, too, has purified and elevated his
soul thereby and has merited keeping this command and reaping
"Actually, one need not only refrain from eating something
forbidden in order to achieve this mitzvah. When a person
eats a kosher meal and focuses his mind and thoughts upon
fulfilling the will of Hashem, Who certainly wants a person
to eat kosher and be sustained, he is transforming the act of
eating into a holy activity. He is eating for the sake of
Heaven, without adding any exertion, without detracting from
any of the pleasure and benefit derived from his eating. He
has thus consciously and intellectually sublimated a simple,
routine act to one of worshiping Hashem.
"This amazing thing takes place because of his mental effort,
his will and intent. And just as forbidden ingestion
contaminates a person, so does the eating of kosher food,
with the proper concentration, purify the eater; it enables
him to accrue a whole treasure store of mitzvos every single
One of the visitors was prompted to express his amazement. "I
am surprised to hear the Rov say that one can chalk up credit
for a commandment of not eating forbidden food even though no
one as much as offered him any treif food and he does
not have anything treif within arm's reach, merely by
virtue of his decision not to eat anything forbidden, arrived
at in his mind. Where does it say anything like that?"
"Actually, this is a novel approach, a chiddush," said
R' Avigdor. "R' Yonah taught us this in his Shaarei
Teshuvoh. A person who resolved in his heart to
steadfastly keep the Torah and fulfill all the commandments
it contains has automatically and immediately received credit
for all of them, even if he has not learned about them or
does not even know about their existence! This is exactly
what happened when Israel declared `Naaseh venishma --
We will do and we will hear' at Har Sinai -- when they
declared their acceptance and readiness to do even before
they heard what the commandments entailed.
"We see what weight Hashem lends to such a resolution and
determination, how He cherishes the very thought and intent
alone. One who is actually presented with the opportunity to
keep that commandment in the flesh, is surely rewarded all
the more. Still, a person's primary obligation and goal is to
improve his character and mindset. One who toils to this end
is considered a servant of Hashem even if his intentions did
not find any concrete expression and if the opportunity did
not arise for him to translate this into action.
"We derive this principle from the Torah. If a person
remembers that he forgot produce in his field and the poor
gleaned it from his field, he is blessed by the Torah even by
default. The Torah states, ` . . . so that Hashem your G-d
shall bless you.' But this person did not consciously give
the produce to the poor. He was unaware of the good deed at
the time. Nonetheless, since after the fact, he was gratified
that he had benefited the convert, the orphan and the widow
from his bounty, he is eligible for Hashem's blessing.
"And the Tana R' Elozor ben Azarya adds that even when a
person loses a coin and a poor man finds it and benefits
therefrom, the loser is certified a blessing by the Torah,
the same as in the aforementioned case of shichechoh.
His joy at the opportunity of helping others, even if it did
not come about through any conscious act of his but as an
aftermath approval, is considered an act of charity, as if
"Nachmani, you should know that you have an advantage in
mitzvos over most other people. When a person is aroused to
perform a mitzvah but does not actually execute it, from
laziness or the like, he has missed out on an opportunity.
But if he was unable to perform it due to extenuating
circumstances, the merit of that mitzvah which he had
intended to do is credited to him. Nothing is subtracted from
him for his not having carried out his intention.
"You can accrue mountains of mitzvos every single day, far
more than you could have compiled many months ago. Don't
despair. Before we leave you, I would like to remind you that
there are six mitzvos in the Torah which are constant. These
are commandments of remembering and are incumbent upon a
person all the time, and they are only performed in the mind,
by thought alone. We studied them on Shavuos eve from the
first rule in Chayei Odom. The observance of mitzvos
is the true life and sustenance of a person. `And you shall
choose life.' "