Question: Someone tried to observe Shabbat but could not hold out from violating its laws in the latter part of the day. Does he receive a reward for the amount of Shabbat he observed? Or is reward based on the principle of “all or nothing”? In other words, does Shabbat observance require a total commitment such that partial observance is comparable to not observing Shabbat altogether?
Answer: The following is cited in the name of HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l: The Torah extols the efforts of Calev ben Yefuna to persuade klal yisrael to ignore the 10 Spies who argued that the Jews would not be able to defeat the Canaanites in battle. Yet, Calev did not succeed. While he may have swayed the people for a short period of time, his efforts were ultimately to no avail. The people sided with the 10 spies, not Calev. Why then does the Torah praise him and why did Hashem reward him?
Rav Moshe argued that this story teaches us that even if one does not succeed in performing a mitzvah, one still receives a great reward for one’s effort. Just as the Talmud (Yoma 85a) contends that one may violate Shabbat for to save a person who may only live for a short period of time, so too with performing mitzvot – even temporary success is deemed important. (See Sefer Kol Ram, Chelek Rishon by Rabbi Avraham Fisheles, Parshat Shelach.)
Although a person may not be fully Shomer Shabbat, his efforts are not wasted and still deem him worthy of reward.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has written several works on Jewish law. His latest, Jewish Prayer The Right Way (Urim publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.