"And Abraham awoke in the morning" (22:3). It is from this verse that the Sages derive the principle zerezim makdimim lemitzvoth, that the meticulous promptly fulfil mitzvoth. What makes this teaching so much more poignant is the context the sacrifice of Yitzchak . It is easy to eagerly await and greet the arrival Shabbat and the yamim tovim with their beautiful atmosphere; it is even a joy for many to have the merit of giving tzedakah . Yet the principle of zerzim makdimim is derived from the verse relating to the akeidah . It is precisely those difficult and unpleasant mitzvoth, ones we seek to avoid, that should be done promptly.
Further analysis brings some nuance to this notion. Abraham did not in fact perform the mitzvah at the earliest possible time. "And Abraham awoke in the morning" means that after hearing G-d's command to bring his son as a "burned offering" ( olah ), he went to sleep, arising (early) the next morning, presumably well rested for his journey. How could this be? Why did he not leave immediately to fulfil G-d's command? Our tradition teaches that many of the momentous events of Jewish history happened at night. Why then did Abraham not depart immediately to fulfil the Divine command? Furthermore, knowing what lay ahead how was it possible for Abraham to actually sleep that night?
One of the crucial challenges facing society is the ability to distinguish between religious intensity and religious fanaticism. While the former is wonderful and must be encouraged and nurtured the latter is dangerous, destructive and debilitating. Claims that one is motivated for the sake of heaven can not excuse intolerable behaviour. Doing so allows one to become a terrorist.
One of the ways of distinguishing between the pitfalls of fanaticism and the benefits of fervor is the amount of thought that infuses our actions. Fanatics act on emotion alone, often after being brainwashed into thinking in a particular way. No foreign ideas or thought are allowed to penetrate. Questions are not allowed and consequences not thought about.
Intensely religious people, on the other hand, have spent a lifetime refining their ideas and ideals. They are seekers of truth constantly questioning and are not afraid of new ideas. They see the image of G-d in all people, understanding that religion is not meant as a tool to conquer the world but to improve it.
Abraham was no fanatic. The only reason Abraham was allowed to attempt to sacrifice Yitzchak was that he received a direct, clear command from G-d. Absent such command, he would have been guilty of attempted murder. Abraham understood exactly what he was doing. He had slept on the idea; and he had a three day journey before arriving at "the place", three days in which he could have changed his mind.
Despite the difficulty, despite that it went against everything Abraham had spent a lifetime teaching, Abraham took his son to be slaughtered. With the knowledge that he was carrying out the will of G-d, no matter how mystifying, he could get a good night's sleep.
Fanatics are willing to hurt even kill others in their zeal to get closer to G-d. Truth be told there is a certain, even if warped, logic to that approach. After all is not man subservient to G-d? Should we allow anything to get in our way of serving Him? Judaism eschews such an approach. Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him (22:12). Rashi explains that Abraham had a desire to at least draw some blood from Yitzchak otherwise he argued I came for nothing. Abraham did not yet fully appreciate that one must never hurt man in the service of G-d. G-d does not want us to to hurt others in order to get closer to Him. (A discussion of those mitzvoth which involve the taking of life is beyond the scope of this dvar Torah but in general they deal with self defence or national security.)
When we teach that the final and ultimate of Abraham's ten tests was the akeidah it does not only refer to his willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak. Ironically it may also refer to his eagerness to draw blood in the service of G-d. The akeidah teaches that we must not allow ourselves to perform actions in the name of religion that our natural instinct tells us is morally problematic.
Abraham is our role model both in the area of gemilot chasadim and that of total dedication and submission to G-d. It is the proper combination of the two that enabled Abraham to be the founding father of the Jewish people. Shabbat Shalom!