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I apologize for the somewhat vague question; it was difficult to write. I would welcome any specific editing suggestions.

What matters in the calculation of a person's righteousness? Is it:

  • Number of mitzvos vs. aveiros ( * occasions done)

or

  • Time spent doing mitzvos vs. aveiros

( or perhaps Number or Time * weight/seriousness of each individual mitzvah)

I know it sounds odd, but I expect that most people have run in to examples of this in their personal decision-making. For example, there is the impulse to do a lot of quick positive mitzvos like count the omer, kiss the mezuze, give a penny, etc., based on the assumption that a higher number of mitzvos out of 613 is the end goal. Or, occasionally, there is a temptation to weigh mitzvos against each other based on time spent--should I do a quick aveira now in order to spend less time sinning later? (It's hard to think of examples of this, but I find it comes up for me a lot on Shabbos, especially with the quasi-precedent of " "חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה". Yishai also provided the example of doing a single aveira to acquire kosher food rather than have to eat treyfs, in which every bite is an aveira, although this points to an issue of number of aveiros rather than time.)

A really good demonstration of what I'm talking about is actually this question. It asks whether there is any point to eating something "less" treyf if you are already eating treyfs. For example, would there be a halachically-rigorous reason to abstain from pork in a non-kosher restaurant? If the answer is "yes," then this points to "number" rather than "time" being the correct calculation. If "no," that would point to "time" instead of "number."

An example that points to "number" instead of "time" is the idea that eating a bug is considered very bad because it violates many specific prohibitions per time unit (or per action).

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    Avot 5:23 Avot 2:1 – Double AA Dec 15 '15 at 22:37
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    @SAH Perhaps it might be good to separate your question into two parts: A theoretical "righteousness" section, and a practical "which is better" section. – LN6595 Dec 15 '15 at 23:45
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    @LN6595 and SAH, halacha deals with cold, hard facts; not judgements. Halacha will tell you what to do in a given situation but a person's righteousness is something that only God can judge. See judaism.stackexchange.com/a/63854/1713 – Daniel Dec 16 '15 at 0:33
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    @SAH I didn't mean that halakha doesn't deal with how to conduct a judicial system. It definitely does deal with that. What I meant is that halakha tells us what to do in a given situation, not which mitzvot are the most important. Your example "if a positive and negative mitzva in the Torah conflict, we should do the positive mitzva," is a perfect illustration of my point. Halakha tells us what to do. The fact that we are supposed to do the positive mitzvah does not mean that the positive mitzvah is more important. It just means that it supersedes the negative mitzvah there. – Daniel Dec 16 '15 at 14:42
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    So it's impossible to weigh mitzvot and aveirot to calculate a person's righteousness since we don't know the relative importance of them. It is, on the other hand, possible to determine what we should do in a given situation where mitzvot and aveirot collide. Not because one is more important than the other, but because halakha should inform us what to do. – Daniel Dec 16 '15 at 14:44
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I don't think we find anywhere in Torah that we would ever make a calculation like this. While there is a discussion in Meseches Shabbas about doing an issur d'rabbanan to stop someone from doing a d'oraissa, the Gemara concludes that even that is not permissible. There are also halachos of when one is permitted to stop learning Torah to perform mitzvot, but that is a different topic based on a different set of principles exclusive to Torah learning.

We can't evaluate mitzvot at all. we do the best we can in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

I heard it brought down that the reason that most mitzvot don't have a reward value attached to them in the Torah is so that we don't make the same calculations you are trying to do.

I understand why you are asking and it would be nice if we could know the value of the mitzvot to figure this out, but here is where we must have emunah and do the best we can.

There is a story told about the Vilna Gaon who had an apostate Jew at his table. the Jew was about to drink a glass of water when the Vilna Gaon stopped him and asked him to make a bracha. the Jew was shocked "don't you know that I don't keep the Torah at all, what difference would it make if I say or skip this beracha?" the Vilna Gaon answered "Hashem judges each action we make, even down to each and every beracha, no matter what else we do".

I suggest learning Torah every day and coming up with a plan of doing the mitzvot in a way that complements your relationship with Hashem. don't worry, about how much when, just as long as you are growing and making your relationship real.

Torah is not a Zero sum game. it is the one truth for all and unique to each and every one of us!

  • In spite of having rejected the premise of my question, you have answered it very well. +1 – SAH Dec 16 '15 at 13:51
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R. Chaim Volozhiner (Derech Hachaim 1:21) writes that each sin causes a flaw in your soul. The punishment that is the consequence of this flaw heals it. The Derekh Hashem similarly (1:4:5) "sin detracts from one's perfection". The Michtav Me'Eliyahu explains the expression "Aveira goreres aveira" by saying that after repeatedly doing a given sin, it becomes part of one's nature, so that no conscious decision is required next time the situation arises.

Yishmael was repaid in terms of "ba'asher hu sham -- as he was there". The way your soul stands at that moment is the direct cause of reward or punishment. Notice that this implies a major statement. We are not judged for what we did, we pay the consequences for who we are. As the midrash states, one of the first three questions the A-lmighty will ask as part of the final judgment is, "Why did you not fulfill your potential?" Man is judged based upon the gap between reality and potential. Mitzvos were given as vehicles for closing this gap.

The reward of a mitzvah therefore cannot be measured by the type of mitzvah, its outcome in this world -- such as whether the recipient received $1 or matching funds brought it up to $2, or pretty much any other criterion human beings can get a handle on. Or as the mishnah puts it, "be [as] aware of a "light" mitzvah as with a weighty one, for you don't know the reward for [each of the] mitzvos." (Avos 2:1)

Which forces us to conclude that even "according to the pain so is the reward" (Avos 5:25) is a derivative idea. (Or else we would know which mitzvah is greater, constradicting the other mitzvah; but also the verse about Yismael forces this conclusion.) The greater the effort and sacrifice, the bigger the change in "ba'asher hu sham -- as you are there", when being judged.

Human justice operates very differently, though. We cannot know the content of a mind or a soul, even our own, well enough to judge it. A court instead does judge the deed.

For the same reason, we "don't know the reward for [each of the] mitzvos". Your question is unanswerable.

  • "As the midrash states" Which midrash is this? Where is it located? – Double AA Dec 17 '15 at 2:06
  • @DoubleAA Shabbos 31a ("אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפו"ר...")? Or Yoma 35b (section that concludes, "נמצא הלל מחייב את העניים רבי אלעזר בן חרסום מחייב את העשירים יוסף מחייב את הרשעים")? Or B'reishis Rabba 93:10 ("אבא כהן ברדלא... לכשיבא הקב"ה ויוכיח כל אחד ואחד לפי מה שהוא")? Or some amalgam thereof? – Fred Dec 17 '15 at 7:10
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    "We are not judged for what we did, we pay the consequences for who we are" - this is borne out very acutely by the Yerushalmi's analogue of "ba'asher hu sham." אם זך וישר היית לא נאמר אלא אם זך וישר אתה - it doesn't say "if you were pure" but rather "if you are pure" – Y     e     z Jan 27 '16 at 4:03
  • @yEz thanks for the paragraph I just inserted at the bottom of aishdas.org/10YemeiTeshuvah.pdf#page=45 – Micha Berger Feb 1 '16 at 20:55
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I will keep it short and give just a few resources:

  • Tanya (First chapter):A righteous person is not a person that has more mitzvos vs. aveiros. A person is called a complete Rasha when he is in the middle of an Aveira.

  • Mefarshim on sukkot second chapter: Or Zaru'a , Ran on the Rif: A person can not stop a mitzva for another mitzva. The reason for is because there is no way how to know which mitzva is more important. Therefore a person should always strive to be under a mitzva no matter which one and never stop doing a mitzva for another one.
    There for also if you can do two mitzvos but it is uncomftarble to do both you don't have to do both.

  • Mefarshim on sukkot second chapter: Ritva: A person should try always to do as many mizvot as possible. The only way you do not have to do a second Mitzva is if there is no way to do both together.

summary:

Or Zaru'a, Ran, and Ba'al H'tanya : Time spent doing mitzvos vs. aveiros

Ritva: Number of mitzvos vs. aveiros

(Sorry for my English)

  • For some reason, that Tanya quote is particularly helpful. – SAH Dec 27 '15 at 6:06
  • I am not purely a Chabbad, but yes the Tanya has exact quotes that explain pnimiut. I personally love the Tanya! – Tomer Dec 28 '15 at 0:41
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Throughout the Talmud you see debates about which verses are the most significant, which mitzvoth are better than others, and which sins are worse. On the latter point, let me give you a couple of examples:

At Yoma 29a, the Gemara quotes Rav Nachman who says that sinful thoughts are worse than sinful acts. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in his Daf Yomi notes, comments that here the Gemara is using the term aveira and when it does, it is usually talking about sexual temptations. So it appears that Rabbi Nachman is saying that sexual thoughts and fantasies are worse than actual sexual acts. Rabbi Steinsaltz then cites Rashi's explanation that this does not refer to the severity of the sin, but to the lust that accompanies thinking about the sin, which is even greater than what exists during the sinful act itself. However, Rabbi Steinsaltz notes that most other commentators understand the statement to be referring to the severity of the thought and the act. E.g., in the Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam explains that the mind, the intellect, is on a much higher level than physical activities. Therefore, sinning in one’s thoughts creates greater damage to the person than does an act of sinning. I like the Ohr ha-Chaim's approach which says that once someone has sinned physically, he has satisfied his inner need and is ready to begin a process of teshuvah – repentance – leading to atonement. However, sinful thoughts which are never acted upon, never satisfy the person, and he will never try to undo or repent from them.

But this is just one example of the rabbis' attempts to rate mitzvoth and aveirot. There are far more. Instead, I would urge you to carefully read the last half of Psalm 19:8-15 -- which we read every Shabbat morning. There King David ask God to automatically forgive his unknown sins and his unintentional sins, and to guide him so that he doesn't do any intentional sins. He concludes that if God and he work this way, then he (David) will be considered "perfect" in God's eyes. From this I learn that our priority is to avoid intentional sins, because that is within our power. Then, if we can create habits that prevent us from unintentional sin -- such as leaving the room when people start talking loshon hara -- we will find it easier to have fewer unintentional sins of the type we'd have to bring an offering if the Temple still existed.

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