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Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
Parshat Vayeira is an opportunity to learn from the extraordinary actions of our patriarch, Abraham.
The Noam Elimelech teaches that the primary aspect of a mitzvah is not its technicalities and details, but rather the love we put into its performance. This does not mean to say that we should disregard the technicalities; on the contrary, we must perform them accurately and to the best of our ability. Nevertheless, when God weighs the two components of a mitzvah, He considers the love we put into its performance to be greater than even the act itself.
The Slonimer Rebbe (in Netivot Shalom) cites a proof to this idea. The Talmud (Brachot 6a) wonders what the phrase in Malachi (3:16) means when it states, "u'l'choshvei shemo" - "and to those who think about God's Name." Rav Ashi explains that a person who intended to perform a mitzvah, yet was prevented from doing so for reasons beyond his control, is nevertheless credited with having performed it. This is because "choshvei shemo" - the person was thinking about His Name.
If God is present in our thoughts, and we yearn and desire to fulfill His will, we are credited with performing mitzvot even when the acts themselves did not come to fruition. The desire to fulfill the Divine will is considered the primary element of the mitzvah.
It is interesting to note that this idea does not hold true in the reverse. The Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 10) teaches that a mitzvah performed with all its intricacies and technicalities, yet without love, does not fly upward. This is because the fundamental ingredient - love - is absent.
LOVE BREAKS ALL NORMS
Our tradition teaches that God tested Abraham 10 times (Avot 5:3). Although Abraham had many extraordinary character traits, it was his overwhelming love for God that enabled him to pass his tests. In Isaiah (41:8), God describes Abraham as "Avraham ohavi" - "Abraham, the one who loves Me." Abraham's tremendous love for God enabled him to carry out the Divine will time after time, even in exceptionally challenging situations.
We see this idea in the Talmud's statement that love breaks all norms (Sanhedrin 105b; see also Bereishit Rabba 55:8). When a person is truly in love, there is nothing he wouldn't do for his beloved.
Abraham demonstrates this quality in this week's parsha when God commands him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The Torah tells us that Abraham got up early in the morning to perform God's command, even performing menial tasks such as saddling his own donkey and chopping wood for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:3)! Abraham's zeal and willingness to perform such tasks himself, instead of appointing one of his many servants to do so, was a manifestation of his incredible love for God.
This idea helps us understand why Abraham chopped the wood for the sacrifice as soon as he awoke from his prophecy. A more sensible plan might have been to wait until he and Isaac arrived at Mount Moriah, thereby saving himself three days of schlepping! According to the Noam Elimelech, however, this was not a logistical oversight. Abraham prepared the wood immediately to demonstrate his love for God. When we love someone, we want to do their bidding immediately, with our own two hands, no matter how difficult the task may be. This was the type of relationship that Abraham had with God - a relationship of love that breaks all norms.
May we use the inspiration of Abraham to love God, in order to succeed in passing our tests in life. And may we merit to see the reciprocation of that love with the final redemption of our people.