Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
To Bring Merit to Jewry

by Yochanan Dovid

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 full-care institution.

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 mitzvah!"

"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 its reward.

"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 day!"

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 premeditated.

"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.' "

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