One of the most frustrating jobs in basic training is a pointless guard duty of our company’s tent area at night, meant to prevent theft and internal trouble. Everybody hates having to wake up in the middle of the night to stand in the freezing cold for a half hour, guarding against a non-existent threat in a company of 150 yeshiva guys.

So this morning I woke up at 4 AM and trudged outside to the guard position. Then I did something which I very rarely do: I blatantly broke the rules. I took out my pocket-sized pirkei avot, and learned a few mishnayot to pass the time. This is called “breaking guard”, and can be punished by the commanders.

I opened up to the following Mishna:

Raban Gamliel the son of Rav Yehuda Hanassi said: …those who toil for the sake of the community…I regard you as if you had done it. (2:2)

Rav Ovadia from Bartenura explains that if one exerts himself on behalf of the community, even if his efforts fail to bear fruit, he receives his reward nevertheless. He also explains that “as if you had done it” refers to other mitzvot which a person fails to do during the time he spent for the community. The mishna then teaches us that if you miss certain mitzvot because you were trying to help others, it is as if you fulfilled those mitzvot as well.

I smiled at the irony, closed the book, and focused on the guard duty.