“Moshe and Yehoshua, his servant, arose, and Moshe ascended to the mountain” (Shemos 24:13)
Rashi comments: I do not know why Yehoshua’s name is here. I would say that the disciple (Yehoshua) escorted his rebbi (Moshe) until the boundary of the mountain, for he was not permitted past that point, and from there Moshe ascended to the Mountain of Hashem. Yehoshua then pitched his tent there and waited for 40 days, as we find that when Moshe descended, the verse says (Shemos 32:17), “When Yehoshua heard the voice of the people in their shouting …” indicating that he was not there with them.
Yehoshua knew that Moshe would be gone for 40 days; he could have returned after 39 days to await Moshe’s descent. It seems that Yehoshua thought it possible that Moshe would return earlier, and he wanted to be the first one to greet him and escort him back to the encampment. He wanted to have the extra time with Moshe Rabbeinu to begin learning as soon as he descended. So dear were the words of Torah to him that he didn’t leave Moshe for a moment. It is that same devotion that Hashem appealed to when He told Yehoshua (Yehoshua 1:8), “The Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth.”
The Talmud (Pesachim 4a) states, “The zealous are early in the performance of mitzvos,” and the Mechilta states, in a similar vein, “If a mitzvah comes to your hand do not allow it to become leavened,” i.e., do it immediately. The Pele Yoetz, Rav Eliezer Papo, notes that when one has the chance to perform a mitzvah, he should do so at his first opportunity. He explains that one never knows what the next moment will bring. He may be prevented for some reason, or the Evil Inclination may intervene to thwart him. The Pele Yoetz even suggests that when one is traveling, he should prepare the items he may need for the performance of a mitzvah in case he is delayed on the way, e.g., having wine and challah for Kiddush, or – depending on the time of year – a shofar, a lulav, a Megillah, etc.
We learn in Eruvin (54a), that Shmuel instructed his disciple R’ Yehuda: “Grab and eat, grab and drink, as the world from which we are departing is like a wedding feast.” Rashi elaborates that like a wedding, the world’s joy is temporal, and one who does not take pleasure in it now will not be able to do so in the future. Our Sages explain that life in this world is fleeting, and one must maximize his good deeds and Torah study in the time allotted to him in this world. The wise person does not become distracted by nonsense, and uses his time wisely.
An interesting parable appears in the Medrash on the verse (Koheles 5:14): “As he emerged from his mother’s womb, naked, will he return as he has come …” A fox passed a vineyard of luscious grapes that was surrounded by a fence. As he looked for a way to get in, he spied a hole in the fence, but it was too small for him to get through. He fasted for three days until he became thin enough to squeeze in, and then feasted on the grapes to his heart’s content. Once fully satisfied, he was ready to leave, but once again he could not fit through the hole. He fasted for another three days and managed to squeeze back out through the hole. As he left, the poor fox said, “Vineyard, vineyard, how lovely are your fruits. But what good are you to me? Just as I came to you, so I leave you.”
We live in a beautiful world, says Shlomo HaMelech, but just as man comes into this world empty-handed so he leaves it. The only fruit he takes with him are the Torah he studied and the mitzvos and good deeds that he performed.
The Chofetz Chaim offers another illustration: The king wanted to reward one of his soldiers who had nobly achieved military victory. The king gave him permission to take whatever he wished from the royal treasury within a fifteen-minute period. The treasurer, very concerned that the soldier would greatly diminish the contents of the treasury, sought a way to avoid the situation without defying the king’s orders. He ordered an investigation of the soldier and discovered that he had a serious weakness for ice cream. The soldier arrived on the designated day with huge empty bags and the doors were opened. As soon as he entered, his eyes lit upon a huge display of ice creams, toppings and condiments. The soldier could not resist – it would only take a minute – and began to indulge in the exceptional array of flavors and delights. By the time he realized the time was passing, it was too late, and there was no time to collect any treasures.
R’ Simcha Zissel Ziv, known as the Alter of Kelm (1824-1898) was one of the foremost students of R’ Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement. He often spoke about the attribute of zerizus, alacrity and zeal, to his students in the yeshiva where he was training a generation of leaders, and at home. He personally excelled in this characteristic. He would gently wake up his small children early in the morning, saying, “Kinderlach, you are sleeping away a kingdom. Hashem has appointed man king over creation.” With those words, the children awoke refreshed and invigorated for their daily service of Hashem.