By Rabbi Alex Freedman.
You have probably heard the expression: “It’s not just what you do that matters, but how you do it.” We learn from Abraham: How quickly we do something matters too.
If I ask somebody to bring me a bottle of water, for example, it’s a very different impression if it takes that person a moment or a full minute. The former conveys, “what you said is important, and I want to meet your needs right away.” While the latter communicates, “I’ll do it when it’s convenient for me.” Same action, different speeds, different emotional takeaways.
Abraham had a reflex for doing things quickly. At the end of our Parsha, Lech Lecha, G-d instructs him to circumcise himself and those males of his household. Isaac is 8 days old, which is why Jewish baby boys ever after have the Bris on the 8th day. But his father Abraham is 99 years old. Nevertheless, the Torah says he does this “B’Etzem Hayom Hazeh – on this very day” (Gn. 17:23). That he does not delay shows his devotion to G-d and his eagerness at entering the covenant. We learn from this the expression “Zrizin Makdimin Lamitzvot,” which means those who are eager do the Mitzvah on the sooner side.
This is a great lesson for how we today should respond. When we have the opportunity to do a Mitzvah, we should jump into it. Similarly, it’s a great reminder of an important way to show love to people important to us, like family or friends. If they need a hand, extend it right away. Try it; they will be touched by your quickness to respond.
This enthusiasm is part of Abraham’s spiritual DNA. When we fast forward to the next Torah reading, Vayera, we encounter the scene of Abraham extending lavish hospitality toward three strangers, ushering them into his tent and providing the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner. Look carefully at the speed at which he operates (words in bold): The L-rd appeared to [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. Perceiving this, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords! If it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. (Gn. 18:1-7)
Again and again, Abraham is in a hurry to take care of these strangers, which indicates that the hospitality is not mere lip service, but comes from a place of genuine enthusiasm. His outward speed conveys his internal conviction. We, Abraham’s children, can do the same.