Parshat Vayera: Genesis 18:1-22:24; II Kings 4:1-37.
By Rabbi Steven Rubenstein
The opening of this portion is the well-known narrative of Avraham welcoming the three angels into his home and displaying the important Jewish value of hakhnasat orhim, welcoming guests.
Another Jewish value that comes across strongly in Avraham’s behavior, both here and throughout the descriptions of his life, is zerizut — enthusiasm. Here, Avraham’s enthusiasm to do the mitzvah of welcoming guests comes out in the speed with which he reacts to their presence. He runs to greet them; he runs to ask Sarah to prepare food for the guests; he runs to his herd to choose an animal for the meal. That is a lot of running for an old man.
The truth is, all of Avraham’s running is only one aspect of the zerizut he shows in the story. A midrash tells us that Avraham was always on the lookout for people wandering through the desert. He was always looking for the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of welcoming guests.
If you look through the narratives of Avraham’s life in the Torah, you can find a variety of moments where Avraham shows this. It is displayed in the fact that Avraham is always getting up and on with his day early in the morning: in the morning the day after God tells him, “Lech Lecha — Go forth from your native land … to a land that I will show you;” the day after God says, “Take your son, your only son … and go to the land of Moriah.” It is this linking of Avraham with morning time that led our rabbis to say that our daily morning service was fixed in connection with Avraham.
Why is Avraham always up so early? He is anxious to do God’s will, to fulfill his purpose in life and to do the mitzvot. This sense of zerizut is not tangential to living a religious life; it is essential. Avraham shows us a path toward moving through our lives with purpose.
When you see an opportunity to help someone, don’t procrastinate; don’t put it off. Who knows how long the opportunity will be available to you? When we procrastinate in the presence of a mitzvah, we show it to be less than important. It might seem that someone else will come along to take care of things. Maybe that is true. When that happens, the person who needed the help will be OK. The person who fulfilled the mitzvah will have achieved something. But what about us? We’ll be the same as we were before, but in an unfortunate way. We will not have achieved something. We will not have helped someone in need. We will not have fulfilled that part of ourselves which was made to fulfill mitzvot.
Wouldn’t it be better to follow Avraham’s model of zerizut? Better for you, better for others and better for our world?
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein is rabbi of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield.