Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rising Early

Anthropologists, sociologists and others who study the ways of different cultures all recognize the importance of language in understanding a people. It is commonly stated (whether true or not) that Eskimos have many different words for snow, because snow plays such a central role in their lives. What, then, does it say about Judaism that the Torah has a specific word for rising early in the morning: l’ha’shkim.

When the word va’yash’kaim is written in the Torah, it implies z'riz'ut, which is often translated as alacrity to do a mitzvah. Alacrity, however, implies haste. Proper z'riz'ut, however, requires a combination of speed and attention to detail. Acting without forethought, or completing an action improperly because of haste, nullifies z'ri'zut.

One of the most dramatic narratives in the Torah where the word va’yash’kaim is used, is Genesis 22:3: “And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him.” After God instructed him to bring Isaac, his son, for a sacrifice, Abraham arose early the very next morning. He may not have understood why God was asking him to do this, but if he was going to fulfill God’s command, Abraham intended to do it enthusiastically.

Most of us, thankfully, are not asked to face such dire challenges. That does not mean that we cannot learn something from Abraham’s actions. It’s easy to hurry to perform a mitzvah that one finds meaningful, such as visiting a sick friend. The real mitzvah of z'ri'zut, however, is in hurrying to do a mitzvah that is outside of one’s comfort zone, such as changing the soiled bedding of an elderly shut-in.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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