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Posted on י״ז במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (October 25, 2010) | in Vayeira | by

One part of learning the parasha that is both fascinating and instructive is learning more about the characters and their qualities because, as we know, our forefathers aren’t merely our progenitors, but also our role models. The things they did and how they did them can illuminate and impact how we live our own lives.

In Vayera, Avraham is faced with the greatest test God ever gave Man. After a century of waiting for a child who would inherit his covenant with God, Avraham is asked to offer Yitzhak as a sacrifice to God. The very same Avraham who stood up and protested God’s actions against Sodom and ‘Amora, now complies without blinking an eye. What is it about Avraham that enables him to make the right decisions?

The commentators offer a couple of clues. In 22:3, Avraham rises early in the morning and saddles his own donkey, and brings with him wood for the altar. The addition of the detail of the wood prompts the Ramban to ask: wouldn’t there be wood where Avraham was going?

ויבקע עצי עולה – זריזותו במצוה, אולי לא ימצא שם במקום ההוא עצים והוליכם שלשה ימים, או שהיה אברהם פוסל לקרבן עץ שנמצא בו תולעת כדין התורה (מדות ב ה), ולקח מביתו עצים טובים לעולה, וכן אמר ויבקע עצי עולה

And he chopped wood for the offering – his zrizut in the mitvah, for perhaps he wouldn’t find any wood in the place after they had traveled three days, or that Avraham would discover that the wood found there is unfit for offerings after finding maggots in the wood, so he brought from his house good wood.

This is strange. Zrizut is classically translated as zealousness. As per the talmudic dictum – זריזינן מקדימים למצוות (zrizin are first to mitzvot) – zrizut carries an image of celerity, of being the first guy to show up. But here, the Ramban’s use of zrizut has nothing to do with being fast. Avraham’s zrizut is here characterized by thinking ahead.

A fuller picture is given to us the very next verse, 22:4. The Torah reveals that Avraham traveled for three days to get to Mount Moriah. The obvious question is: why make Avraham travel for three whole days? Why not have Avraham do the deed where he stands?

Rashi explains:

ביום השלישי – למה איחר מלהראותו מיד, כדי שלא יאמרו הממו וערבבו פתאום וטרד דעתו, ואילו היה לו שהות להמלך אל לבו לא היה עושה

On the third day – Why did God draw it out and not reveal it immediately? In order that (they) might not say he was surprised and confused suddenly, and if he had time to think about it he would have changed his mind and not done it.

The benefit of making Avraham travel for so long was to give him time to think it out. He could have walked out if he wanted to, but he chose not to. The Ramban really drives this point home. By giving Avraham days to think about the act, Avraham’s action became not a hasty, thoughtless, and rash reaction, but one driven by counsel and forethought.

And that’s the core of zrizut. Zrizut is not about doing the mitzvah as fast as possible, but about doing it as thoughtfully as possible. When we acquire forethought and proper intention (or in the Ramban’s words, דעת ועצה), we can refocus our deeds. When we are first to minyan or first to lend a helping hand, it is not a thoughtless reaction, but a thoughtful action, a decision to be a better person.

On Mount Moriah, God showed us the heights of human capability. Let us take this lesson and be the best people we can be.

[cross-posted on divreidavid]

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