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I have heard stories such as

A wealthy man felt like abandoning his Judaism and went to the kotel to 'say his goodbyes'. There he saw a chasid davening with such fervor and tears that the wealthy man decided not only to continue being a torah Jew but also to donate millions of dollars to charity.

That type of story usually ends with "and when the chasid gets up to Heaven, they will show him the merit he received for giving millions of dollars to tzedaka. But, 'I never did any such thing,' protests the chasid. 'You are receiving this merit for inspiring another person,' is the response.

My question is, is this true? If, through no intent of my own, someone sees me or something I have done and is inspired to do good themselves, do I get the credit? If so, why (after all, I haven't actually done the specific action)? And, does this work in the reverse (can someone be punished for causing someone to sin by modeling bad behavior)?

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which mitzvah would "inspiring someone" count as? a story mishpacha.com/Browse/Article/1030/Emor-Kiddush-Hashem – Danno May 8 '13 at 10:53
    
Rav Nissan Kaplan of Mir Yeshiva has a couple of excellent shiurim on this issue. His conclusion is that some mitzvot, if performed not for the sake of the mitzvah, can actually be aveirot. You can here Part One here: ravkaplan.dafyomireview.com/cdd/Halacha/5771-Halacha/…, and you can hear Part Two here: ravkaplan.dafyomireview.com/cdd/Halacha/5771-Halacha/…. – Shimon bM May 8 '13 at 12:10
    
You caused someone to do something good. – Double AA May 8 '13 at 13:24
    
If unintentional chillul Hashem is punishable (as said in Pirkei Avot, Rambam Hil. Teshuva, etc) then unintentional kiddush Hashem may well be rewardable. – Ze'ev Felsen May 8 '13 at 13:57
    
@DoubleAA I don't think that is the case. you were incidental to that person's decision – user2110 May 8 '13 at 13:57
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Rashi to Devorim 24 (19) about the forgotten sheaf says

SO THAT [THE LORD, YOUR GOD,] WILL BLESS YOU: Although [the forgotten sheaf came into his hand without intention [of the owner]. How how much more so [will one be blessed] if he did it deliberately!

Hence, you must say that if someone dropped a sela, and a poor man found it and was sustained by it, then he [who lost the coin] will be blessed on its account. (my emphasis) — [Sifrei 24:149]

This seems to be analagous even to the extent of the poor man taking the decision to pick up the coin to do the mitzva of sustaining himself by it.

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2  
+1 great answer! – user2110 May 8 '13 at 16:23
    
so does that mean the inverse is true? If I drop a stick and someone sees it and is inspired to hit someone else am I held accountable? – not-allowed to change my name May 9 '13 at 1:08

The common expression throughout the Torah and Chazal "ma'ase yadekha" (the work/actions of your hands) is meant to be understood as that which we do and also everything that results from our actions. So yes, being a good role model for others to learn from definitely warrants a reward unto itself.

The same is also true in reverse, if due to your wrongful actions, another onlooker sinned as well, this is a clear violation of lifnei iver (Vayikra 19:14). Furthermore, there are multiple rabbinic restrictions throughout various topics in the Torah that were established based on Mar'it ha'ayin (onlookers who may see one do an action and thereby think that the action is permissible to do). Plus you have the whole concept of Kiddush/chilul Hashem which again depends on the thoughts of another and their perception of your action. Thus, we Jews indeed strongly care about what people will think. Therefore one must always be on guard.

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1  
Can you source your assertions, particularly on the first paragraph? Thank you. – ephraim helfgot 2 days ago
    
I heard that drasha from a competent Rav in a lecture, the textual source escapes me right now – Yosef 2 days ago

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