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Enthusiasm For a Mitzva

 

In this week parasha we read about the enthusiasm, or zrizus, that Avraham Avinu exhibited when given a mitzva. This week’s article will focus on the obligation to exhibit zrizus in doing mitzvos. What is zrizus? Does it mean hastiness, zeal, or promptness? What do Chazal mean when they say “zrizim makdimim l’mitzvos”, loosely translated as “Those who serve Hashem with enthusiasm perform mitzvos with alacrity and do them as early as is allowed”? Why is the first Shacharis minyan called vasikin, and why is praying at that time important? The Torah mentions that Avraham Avinu arose early on two other occasions as well. What does this teach us? And why did Avraham Avinu go to sleep the night before the Akeida?

In this week’s parasha we read a detailed account of Avrhama Avinu’s conduct after Hashem told him to offer his son on the altar, “Avraham arose early in the morning” (Bereshis 22:3). Rashi explains: “He hastened to [perform] the commandment.” Torahs Kohanim (chapter 1:1:3) and the Gemara (Psachim 4a) derive from here that “zrizim makdimim lemitzvos”. This week’s article will focus on the obligation, its reasoning, and significance.

Obligation and Sources

Toras Kohanim and the Gemara teach (ibid) that although the mitzva of Bris Mila can be performed all day, zrizim do so early in the morning, just as Avraham Avinu arose early in the morning to perform the mitzva of the Akeida. Rashi (Psachim 4a) explains that the words “And Avraham arose early in the morning” teach us that Avraham Avinu didn’t even wait until the sun rose — he set out at the break of dawn.

Enthusiasm in mitzvos can also be derived from several other sources:

The Mechilta (Bo – Masechta D’Pesacha, 9) learns from the pasuk: “And you shall watch over the matzos” (Shemos 12:17): “Rabbi Yoshiya says: don’t read matzos but mitzvos. Just like the matzah should not become leavened by letting it sit, so too a mitzva should not be spoiled by letting it sit – if a mitzva comes your way don’t tarry.”

A similar halacha is found in Pesachim (64b): “Reish Lakish says: don’t pass up mitzvos – if one mitzva comes your way, don’t pass it up for another mitzva that presents itself later.”

In addition, King David writes in Tehilim (119:60): “I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments”. This pasuk teaches us that we must be quick in preforming mitzvos and not dawdle. Midrashim and Rishonoim list the halachos that are derived from this pasuk:

  1. Agadas Bereshis (31:3) points out that although naturally, Avraham should have wanted to delay the mitzva of the Akeida, he performed it early in the morning. This is in contrast to Lot — even when angels tried to save him from the doomed Sodom, he took his time in escaping.
  2. Psikta Zutra (Naso) learns here that mitzvos should not be passed up. When a certain mitzva presents itself, it should be performed without delay, even if another mitzva will or may present itself later on. This is derived from Moshe Rabbenu – when presented with the opportunity to set aside the three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan, he hurried to do so. Although his appointment did not take effect until the nation entered the land west of the Jordan and set aside the other three cities, which Moshe Rabbenu knew would not occur in his lifetime, he hurried to begin the mitzva as soon as it became possible.
  3. The Chovos Halevavos (Sha’ar Hateshuva, 10) and Rabbenu Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 2:34) explain this pasuk as referring to the mitzva of teshuva. One must hurry to repent when possible and not push it off, because every delay makes it harder to repent. And the delay creates a new demand on the one who needed to repent– why didn’t you hurry up and repent?!

Chovos Halevavos also explains (Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh 3:6) that when one carefully gives account for all of his deeds and reaches the correct conclusion that he wronged and how good it is to connect to Hashem, he is infused with a natural zrizus — his physical body becomes lighter and doing mitzvos becomes easier. This is what King David describes in Tehilim (119:60): “I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments”: although the human body is naturally lazy and alacrity requires conscious self-training, King David changed his nature when it came to mitzva performance and became naturally quick.

  1. The Mesilas Yesharim notes that the angels, too, are blessed with this characteristic as the pasuk reads: “Bless the Lord, His angels, those mighty in strength, who perform His word, to hearken to the voice of His word,” (Tehilim 103:20) and also: “And the angels run and return” (Yechezkeil 1:14). [As soon as the angels receive their marching orders, they race off to fulfill them. And as soon as they receive opposite orders, they turn around at the same speed, and return.]
  2. Sefer Chassidim (chapter 878) rules that even if the mitzva can be performed in a superior manner later on, it should be performed as soon as possible in whatever setting there is. One should not take any other consideration in account, not even one for the sake of Heaven.

Zrizus – What It Is

The simple translation of zrizus is alacrity, one who does things promptly and quickly. Similarly, a vasik is a word used by Chazal to describe the result of performing a mitzva with zrizus. Hence, people who are careful to pray shemonah esrei at daybreak, the earliest time one should do so- are called vasikin (and the minyan is named for them).

Scrupulous vs. Zariz

Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair’s famous spiritual Ladder to Greatness is mentioned in the Gemara – it begins with Torah and ends with Ruach Hakodesh. The initial steps are Torah, zehirus and zrizus. Torah leads to zehirus – prudence, which in turn, leads to zrizus. Rashi (Chulin 107b) explains that the zariz is superior to the prudent. While the prudent is careful not to miss out on that mitzva at the time of performance and is careful not to violate a prohibition, the zariz anticipates the future and even before the need for carefulness arises, sets himself up to avoid the dangerous (to violate a prohibition) situation. For example, a careful wagon driver will maneuver his wagon carefully around a swamp, while a zariz wagon driver won’t start out on a swampy route  at all. A prudent person knows how to escape a test unscathed, while the alacritous has the foresight to circumvent the situation altogether.

Zrizus and Early Mitzvah Performance

A zariz performs mitzvos at the earliest possible opportunity. What is the connection? While a regular person may push off performing a mitzva until the last possible moment, effectively allowing for unforeseen circumstances to prevent him from performing the mitzva, the zahir will carefully calculate the possibilities and create a safety net so nothing comes up to prevent him from performing the mitzva. However, the zariz, knowing that last minute circumstances crop up, performs the mitzva as soon as it becomes possible, just to be sure. This way, he can be certain that no unforeseen circumstance will prevent him from performing the mitzva because he has already performed it.

Zahir and Zariz According to the Mesilas Yesharim

The Mesilas Yesharim (which is based on Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair’s Ladder to Greatness) follows Rashi’s understanding of zrizus — ensuring nothing prevents performing the mitzvah on hand. For that end, the zariz performs the mitzva as soon as it becomes possible. He take a different route, though, in explaining the difference between zehirus and zerizus – in his opinion, a zahir is one who takes every precaution not to transgress any prohibition, while the zahir is one who makes sure to perform every positive command in the most perfect and effective manner.

Zrizus According to the Meiri

The Meiri (Horiyos 10b) explains these terms a bit differently – in his opinion zehirus should be translated as enthusiasm, or eagerness. In his opinion, the zariz performs the mitzva as soon as it becomes possible because for him every mitzva is a grand opportunity, not a bother. One who sees a mitzva as a burden, pushes it off as much as possible.

When someone loves something, he hurries to do it, while one who feels it is a burden — although eventually he will do it — delays it as much as possible. Developing zrizus takes internal work and concentrated effort so mitzvos are performed out of love and understanding of their value, not as a burden and obligation which people try to postpone.

Rashi also points out to the connection between zrizus and the longing to perform mitzvos.

Vasik – Vasikin

The Gemara (brachos 9b) writes that Krias Shema with its brachos can be recited starting with dawn — the time that marks the beginning of twilight before (about an hour) sunrise. Shemone Esrei, though, can only be recited after sunrise. Since the blessing on the redemption (Ga’al Yisroel — the second of the blessings after the Shema) must be recited as close as possible to the Shemone Esrei, vasikin who want to pray the Shemone Esrei as early as possible begin praying before sunrise, setting up the timing so they finish the final blessing after Shema with daybreak, and begin the Shemone Esrei at the first possible moment.

Rashi explains that those who are dubbed vasikin are (Brachos 9b): “humble people who love the mitzva.” Vasikin are people who begin praying Shacharis at the first possible moment out of love for the mitzva, and due to their humility – heavenly obligations take precedence over their own needs.

Similarly, Chazal derive (Mechilta, Beshalach; Sanhedrin 105b) that love cancels a respectable person’s normal demeanor of prominence from Avraham Avinu. He saddled his donkey himself out of sheer love for Hashem and His mitzvos, even though he had servants who easily could have done the job.

Early Bris

The Tzemach Tzedek (128) and Shivas Tzion (54) rule that the mitzva of Bris Mila takes precedence over the mitzva of Pidyon Haben, because reference to “zrizim makdimim lemitzvos” appears in connection to the Bris. This is learned from “And Avraham arose early in the morning” (Bereshis 22:3).

Seemingly, they maintain that the obligation to perform mitzvas as early as possible pertains specifically to the mitzva of Bris Mila, which is learned from the Akeida. The Divrei Makiel (I, chapter 17:35) asks why this could be – since the concept of “zrizim makdimim lemitzvos” is a rule that applies to all mitzvos?

There are several reasons why the mitzva of Bris Mila is especially connected to the Bris and therefore the rule of zrizim makdimim lemitzovs applies to it in particular:

According to the Meiri (Yoma 28b) postponing a Bris, which is painful to the child, could appear as a show of pity to the child overriding one’s desire to do mitzvos. Therefore, with a Bris in particular, one should make every effort to perform it as soon as possible, just as Avraham Avinu expressed his enthusiasm on his way to the Akeida.

We thus see that zrizim makdimim applies particularly when mitzvos are hard to perform.

The Toras Chaim (Psachim 4a) writes that the concept of zrizim makdimim applies especial to the Akeida because people could have said that Hashem shocked Avraham into performing it, and his actions were not done with full comprehension. Avraham Avinu’s zrizus here was an expression of his own desire with full understanding to totally submit himself to G-d’s Will. This reasoning applies to the mitzva of Bris Mila as well.

The Aruch Hashulchan (Yore Deah 262:8) writes that Chazal learned the obligation of zrizim makdimim from the Akeida. The Mishna (Megillah 20b) lists all the mitzvos that may be done all day, and does not mention a Bris Mila because: “The Bris is a holy sign with which the child enters holiness, and therefore one should be careful not to delay it.” He adds that people who postpone the Bris to the afternoon hours so more people can join are transgressing dreadfully.

Avraham Avinu’s Zrizus

The pasuk “And Avraham arose early in the morning” appears 3 times in the Torah, all three in this week’s parasha. The first appears at the Akieda; the second – when he went out to gaze at Sodom (and instituted the Shacharis prayer); and the third – when he sent Hagar and Yishamel away.

These three occurrences serve as a source for necessitating particular alacrity in specific mitzvos:

Shacharis

Praying Shacharis at the earliest possible moment is mentioned in halacha as a particularly praiseworthy practice, as we proved earlier from the quote from the Gemara.

The Mechilta (Beshalach, 5) mentions that the prayers of the righteous are heard in the morning. He continues and lists many other tzadikim who arose early to pray in the morning. The Zohar (Vayetzei 164b) adds that ever since the Akeida, the time Avraham Avinu arose early to fulfill the Will of his Creator, is a time in which mercy is aroused in the world. The late afternoon, too, when the Akeida actually took place, is a time of mercy. This is why two Tamid sacrifices are offered  every day – one, early in the morning, and the other – in the late afternoon. The Ramchal (Ma’amar Hageula) writes that in merit of Avraham’s early rising, every early rising in the morning is a time of particular Chessed, causing peace and rest in the world.

Tikunei Zohar (Introduction 8b) writes that one who arises early, recites the Shema, and prays at the time of “And Avraham arose early” weakens his Evil Inclination

The Mate Moshe, a disciple of the Maharshal (Amud Ha’avoda chapter 958), lists five days in which everyone arises early to pray vasikin. These days are an acronym of Avraham, the first person to pray at this time: Av (the 9th of AV); Brias Ha’Olam – the day of Adam’s creation — Rosh Hashana; Rabba – the grand fast of Yom Kippur; Hoshaana Rabba; and Megillah – Purim. The final letters of these days are also the acronym of Avraham – Hosha’ana Rabba, Tisha Be’av, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, and Purim.

Sending Hagar Away

What was the urgency in sending Hagar away? Why does the Torah mention that Avraham arose early to do so?

This question can be answered easily in light of the above mentioned Meiri – sending her away conflicted with Avraham’s natural instinct and desires. He only did so only because Hashem told him to listen to Sarah. Once it became Hashem’s Will that he send her away, it was his mitzva. And a mitzva that is hard to perform requires extra zrizus.

The Midrash (Tanchuma Shemos 1; Shemos Raba 1) describes how Avraham hated Yishamel for his bad behavior. Therefore, he only gave him bread and water despite his great wealth. How did this happen? How did Avraham Avinu change his emotions towards his son so quickly — from passionate love to fiery hatred, so much so, that he only gave him the barest necessities to keep him alive? (The Midrash notes that Avraham gave Hagar plenty of bread and water, as much as she could carry. Although she and Yishmael ate and drank, the bread and water remained intact, ceasing only after she “got lost in the deserts of Be’er Sheva” — she returned to idol worship.)

This teaches us that the attribute of zrizus includes exercising full emotional control. When it is Hashem’s Will to sacrifice his child, he does so eagerly; when it is Hashem Will that he send his wife and child away – he does so willingly, hating his son for his bad behavior, and refraining from giving him anything beyond the most basic necessities.

Sleeping

The Brisker Rav (Teshuvos V’hanhagos, IV:134) points out that Avraham Avinu’s arising indicates that he slept the night before. Although he knew he would be sacrificing his son, for whom he had waited so many years, the next day, he went to bed and fell asleep peacefully, gathering his emotional and physical resources with which to arise early and fulfill Hashem’s Will.

Summary

Although zrizus does not necessarily connote speed or haste, it does entail expression of enthusiasm in mitzva performance, and care to refrain from situations that may cause the mitzva to become lost. One must be aware of which mitzvos are hard for him to perform, and show extra eagerness in performing those mitzvos that he would naturally push off.

The Taz (Orech Chaim 1:2) writes that one who arises at dawn to pray trains himself to actively initiate activities in his day and not passively submit to life’s circumstances. One who is awakened by the rising sun gets used to follow the natural order. Let us all start the day on the right foot!

 

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