The Intention Counts

Few things in life are as frustrating and disappointing as when concerted efforts appear to be for naught.

A frenetically busy mother of young children devotes weeks to trying, l’shem mitzvah, to bring a shidduch to fruition — only to see it fall apart at the last moment. A hardworking businessman gives up every Sunday to fundraise for his favorite tzedakah, but after two months has precious little to show for it.

Day after day, a kollel yungerman gives up his lunchtime to try to prepare his neighbor’s son for a farher at the yeshivah he so desperately wants to attend. He knows that his neighbor can’t afford a tutor and tells him that the only reward he is seeking is for the bachur to be accepted. But in the end, despite all his work, the youngster doesn’t get in.

There are countless other examples of noble intentions and unsuccessful efforts that fail to produce the desired results. Time and resources are invested in various chessed projects that never get off the ground. Commitments are made to increase the number of hours spent learning Torah, but despite genuine efforts to learn, unavoidable factors interfere.

In this week’s parashah we learn about Avraham Avinu’s hachnasas orchim for three men. In reality, these guests weren’t humans but angels; they weren’t actually eating but only pretending to eat. Through a temporal lens, it would seem that this was all a wasted effort.

Avraham Avinu welcomed and fed hungry people every day. He taught idol worshippers about Hashem and trained them to thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for the food he served them. But this is the only time that the Torah explicitly tells us of the hachnasas orchim of Avraham Avinu.

The Torah describes to us in great detail the conversations that took place between Avraham Avinu and the three malachim, even describing the meal that was served. Chazal teach us that in the merit of the water that Avraham Avinu offered these guests, his descendants merited to quench their thirst in the Midbar, and in the zechus of the bread that Avraham Avinu gave them, Bnei Yisrael merited the mann.

The Torah is teaching us that it isn’t the accomplishment that matters — it is the intent, the desire, that the Ribbono shel Olam values.

Later in the parashah we learn that the Ribbono shel Olam personally instructed Avraham Avinu to take his beloved son Yitzchak to Eretz Hamoriah and “bring him there as an offering.”

Avraham Avinu understood that Hashem’s intention was that he actually sacrifice his son, and he proceeded to bind his hands and feet. He stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

Then a malach called out to him from Shamayim and said, “Avraham, Avraham.”

“Here I am,” Avraham replied.

Al tishlach yadcha el hanaar — do not send forth your hand to the lad nor do anything to him…”

Many meforshim pose the obvious question: Why did Hashem Himself see fit to command Avraham Avinu to bring his son as an offering, but then send an angel to tell him not to slaughter Yitzchak?

Chazal (Shabbos 63a) tell us that if someone thought to perform a mitzvah but was unable to do so through no fault of his own, it is considered as if he performed the mitzvah.

Since Avraham Avinu’s intent was to bring Yitzchak as a korban, the Ribbono shel Olam considered it as if he actually did so. It would therefore have been inappropriate for Hashem to say, “Do not send forth your hand to the lad nor do anything to him,” and an angel was sent with this instruction instead. (Based on a teaching of the Rebbe, Harav Tzadok of Lublin, zy”a.)

Dovid Hamelech states (Tehillim 62:13): “And Yours, Hashem, is Kindness, for You repay each man according to his deeds.” What is the particular kindness of repaying a man for his deeds? Doesn’t man deserve a reward for his actions?

Numerous meforshim give the same explanation:

Every single component used in the performance of a mitzvah is actually given to us by Hashem. The physical energy and stamina, the wisdom and knowledge, and financial and material resources are all from Hashem. In reality, we didn’t actually do anything except to choose right over wrong, and to use tools, abilities, and kochos given to us for that purpose. Yet we are rewarded as if we actually did something — and that is a kindness.

However, the decision-making process, the ability to want to do right — that was given to mankind, and when we do make the right choice in what we desire, even if it never becomes a reality, the reward is great and eternal.