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    More speed, less haste – Vayyera

    Abraham feeding the angels, from the 1728 Figures de la Bible

    When the three strangers arrived at Abraham’s doorstep he hastened to bring them food and water (Gen. 18:2).

    Hospitality, as Sforno points out, was ingrained in Abraham’s character. When he had an opportunity to be a good host he ran and rejoiced.

    Hastening to do a mitzvah is not only a mark of Abraham but of every Jew. “All the deeds of the righteous are done in haste”, say the rabbis.

    So why do they also say at the beginning of Pir’kei Avot that one’s actions should be deliberate, i.e. unrushed and careful?

    It surely depends on the nature of the action.

    What Pir’kei Avot is talking about is decision-making. A judge mustn’t be in a hurry. If it takes a little longer to come to a verdict it may be a real service to justice and truth.

    The same goes with all of us. Before we make up our minds we should ensure we have the full picture and understand the arguments on both sides. Thinking takes time.

    Doing a good deed like hospitality also takes time but once a person is trained in the art of the good deed they can hasten and even run to do the mitzvah with energy and spirit.

    There is a good example in the practice of hastening to the synagogue and walking away slowly, and hastening to the reading desk to be called to the Torah and returning to one’s seat slowly.

    I recall an elderly congregant, Mr M., in a certain synagogue where I was spiritual leader. When called to the Torah, the somewhat portly Mr M. literally ran up the steps of the bimah; but going back to his seat he dawdled and took his time.

    The mitzvah was done: now he could savour it.

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