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Dvar Torah for 2nd Day of Rosh Hashana:

Genesis 22 – The Binding of Isaac

הזריזין מקדימין למצוות – The Diligent Do the Mitzvot as Early as Possible.

At the beginning of our Torah reading today, we are told that Abraham was tested by God and commanded to take his beloved son, Isaac, to “a place that he will be shown”. This place, we soon learn is Mt. Moriah, later to become the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What options did Abraham have in response to this command? He could have argued with God (see Genesis 19, Abraham’s argument with God about Sodom and Gomorrah). Or, he could have fled (but that didn’t work with Jonah – see the Book of Jonah which we read on Yom Kippur afternoon) or he could have agonized and delayed. Instead, he not only chose to carry out God’s instructions but he chose to follow His command as early as possible (22:3).

When a Jewish boy is 8 days old, Jewish parents are commanded by God to circumcise their sons. This is accomplished by bringing the baby to a mohel who, by using a knife, who will enter the boy into the covenant of God. While researchers show that a brit performed by a mohel causes little distress, it is natural for Jewish mothers and fathers to be anxious as the 8th day approaches. Yet, despite some anxiety, Jews, all over the world, have been carrying out God’s instruction for 3,700 years.

All of us, throughout our lives, will be faced with many difficult decisions. How does one face those difficult decisions? It is human nature to struggle with the options. We may try to put off a course of action until we are 100 percent certain that we are making the correct choice. But rarely does life give us the luxury of time for such deliberations.

While making rash decisions is never to be encouraged, the Talmud nevertheless praises those who carry out mitzvot “as early as possible”. Rashi, in his commentary to the Talmud teaches, “Diligence is preferable to caution.” A cautious person may, in the end, avoid making a mistake or committing a transgression but Rashi teaches that the diligent person plans ahead and is prepared for all contingencies so that when the critical moment arises, the correct choice/s and actions can be made on the spot.

Blind obedience to authority can lead to horrific consequences. Our sages were quite strict in their expectations of moral responsibility on the part of the individual. How then does one find the balance between making ethical decisions on the one hand and making quick decisions on the other? In the case of Abraham, there was a complete and total faith in God. With a brit, Jews have the experience of almost 4,000 years of our people following this practice to rely upon. Judaism encourages us to follow the teaching of Rashi to be diligent by preparing in advance for life’s critical moments so that we can perform the mitzvot as early as possible.