A significant section of parashat Ma’asei deals with the halakhot concerning the murderer. On the one hand, the Torah may seem very harsh in its rulings. A closer look would reveal very important lessons concerning the role of decisiveness in judgment.
Counting the Omer is an opportunity to learn decisiveness. This tradition marking the days from Passover to Shavuot (see Lev. 23:10-21) reenacts the journey from bondage in Egypt (Mitzraim in Hebrew, meaning “the narrow place”) to revelation at Mount Sinai.
Most people have had the experience of going to a restaurant with other people and having to wait on one person who can’t make up their mind over what to order. The person ordering agonizes over what to get, and meanwhile, everyone else is hungry and waiting, because their order won’t be placed until the indecisive individual comes to a decision. You just want them to order anything just to get the ball rolling.
Yeshua is clear on decision making, Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one (Matt. 5:33–37). This command has simpatico with the cannon of Jewish tradition. Rabbi Elazar gave this simple model of clarity, “No is an oath, and yes is an oath.” (Shevit 36a) and Rabbi Ishmael ties sage advice to the narrative of Israel’s national identity as the people of Hashem.
One must be so stubborn so as to overcome all the impediments that stand in the way of making a decision." -- Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov, Cheshbon HaNefesh
I’ve been reading a great book on management — The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey. Trust, the book’s sub-title claims, is “the one thing that changes everything,” the key to success and effectiveness in every organization and relationship. The book lists thirteen behaviors that have been proven to build trust, including Behavior #8: “Confront Reality,” which sheds a lot of light on the trait of decisiveness.
The Hebrew word for decisiveness is harizut. Harizut means to cause to run, or to expedite.
The Hebrew gives us a slightly different spin on decisiveness. It highlights that it is a middah that acts in a quick way. Once you know what to do, you need not delay. If we do not develop this middah, we can lose the chance at opportunities that may not make themselves known again. By assessing situations more quickly and understanding the choices before you, you can act more decisively and immediately.
This story is, without a doubt, a pearl to me - in fact, I would consider it a suitable bedtime story for (in the distant future) grandchildren of mine. Filled with action and a fantastic ending, this account speaks volumes to us in the realm of decision. Here we have the Sages, the brilliant minds of Israel, having a delightful halachic dispute over the purity status of an oven of a man named Achnai. Indeed, of all the minds, history states that R. Eliezer is said to have been the brightest. Truly, even in this story, it appears that Hashem agrees with R. Eliezer in his decision. But the rest of the Sages do not concur. No way.
Decisiveness means taking to heart what needs to be done enough to take the steps to accomplish it. It is not enough just to know what needs to be done; one must not tarry in the knowledge so long that action becomes superfluous or forgotten. This is Yaakov’s exhortation to us: