FULL SPEED AHEAD
You are reclining in your easy-chair, cuddled up and engrossed in a good book, sipping an ice cold glass of lemonade.
You are reclining in your easy-chair, cuddled up and engrossed in a good book, sipping an ice cold glass of lemonade. Thoroughly enjoying this treasured relaxation, you are suddenly interrupted by an abrupt knock at the door by a stranger asking you to do them a favor. Brushing aside the intruder, you continue with the intriguing plot.
The Torah describes in great detail how Abraham, when visited by three guests at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, demonstrated tremendous zeal in serving and taking care of them. Abraham "hastened to the tent to Sarah" so that she should prepare fresh bread, "ran to the cattle" to prepare the greatest delicacies, and then "stood over them beneath the tree" while they ate in the shade, making sure that their every need was provided for (Genesis 18:6-8). Rabbeinu Bachya, a 14th century Torah commentator, points out that even though Abraham was an elderly man and extremely weak from the circumcision he had performed on himself just three days before, and even though he had many servants who could have served the guests for him, out of honor for his guests Abraham did it himself, and with great zeal and enthusiasm.
At the end of the Torah portion there is another situation in which Abraham demonstrated this character trait of zeal. On the morning that Abraham arose to perform the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, he "arose early" to perform the mitzvah (ibid. 22:3). In this difficult situation when Abraham was told to kill his beloved son for whom he had waited so long for, one would think that the last thing a person would do is wake up early in the morning to embark on this mission. Yet we see that Abraham did! How can this be?
Once again we see an incredible example of Abraham’s mastery of the character trait known as zrizut – being zealous, quick, and enthusiastic about performing Hashem’s mitzvot. Abraham developed this trait to such a degree that even in this extremely difficult and trying circumstance, he was still able to overcome his desire to procrastinate and even wake up early to do Hashem’s will. This teaches us an incredible lesson, that even at times when a situation is uncomfortable, we still have the ability within us to perform a mitzvah with zeal and enthusiasm. This ability to serve Hashem with excitement surely applies even more when the mitzvah is not that difficult.
There is a well-known concept in human dynamics known as inertia – that a person’s natural tendency is to try to remain as inactive as possible. This tendency is multiplied when it comes to carrying out mitzvot because there is an added drawback, the evil inclination, which will do anything in its power, both in our conscious and subconscious, to prevent a person from doing an action that will entitle him to reward in the World to Come. With this in mind, we are left with a question. How does one go about acquiring this tremendous character trait? How does one overcome his natural laziness to accomplish greatness?
There are two ways to do this: The Messilat Yesharim, the classic work on Jewish ethics, explains that we do this by focusing on all the things Hashem does for us. For if we can recognize all the good that He does for us at all times, and the tremendous wonders that He does from the time we are born until our last days, we will no doubt run to do whatever we can to reciprocate to the best of our ability by doing His mitzvot and exalting His name. The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the turn of this century, says that the second way is to recognize the importance of each minute. We know that every word of Torah that a person studies is a mitzvah unto itself. If a person speaks at a normal pace, he can speak about two hundred words per minute, so if a person talks about Torah for one minute, he gets two hundred mitzvot right there.
Now think, if a person learns for fifteen minutes, he gets three thousand mitzvot! If he learns for an hour he gets twelve thousand mitzvot! Now what if a person learned steadily for a full day? What about a few days? All the mitzvot keep adding up, and the more mitzvot he does the more reward he gets. Within a short time, we have the ability to accomplish millions of mitzvot.
It is through this recognition that we can gain the desire to utilize each moment to its fullest, whether it be by learning Torah, helping others, or by doing any other mitzvah. But we need a special swiftness and zealousness to make sure we run to do them, as well as to take care of them properly.
This idea of valuing each moment was explained in a parable by Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak HaDarshan, a great 19th century orator in Eastern Europe. Imagine if everyone in a cemetery was given another half hour of life to acquire as much heavenly reward as they could. You would see people hurrying around, learning Torah, praying, visiting the sick, and giving charity, each person according to his or her ability. Now what if these people were given a few hours of life, or even a few days? Wouldn’t they try to utilize their time to squeeze in as many mitzvot as possible? How about us – who knows how much time we have left?
It is like the Chofetz Chaim once said: Life is like a postcard. When we start off, we write in big, scrawly text. But as we see that the postcard is running out of space and we have so much more to say, we begin writing smaller and smaller, squeezing in words wherever there is room. It is the same with our mitzvah observance. We are not so careful about doing all that we can because we feel that there is so much time left. But as our life passes, we realize that our time is precious and we try to squeeze in at the end as many mitzvot as we can. But if we realize now the value of time, we can utilize ours to its fullest.
So when we are relaxing at home reading a book or doing anything that we would prefer not to stop, we must think back to these methods. We must remember how kind Hashem is to us and how much we must do to reach even a minimal level of repayment to Him. We should remember the importance and value of every minute and every mitzvah. Lastly, we should remember that no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us to do a mitzvah, is it possible for it to be more challenging than it was for Abraham to kill his own son? Through this recognition, may we merit accomplishing more mitzvot, and thus increase our reward both in this world and the next.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, writes from New York.
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