Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Lech Lecha: Testing, testing, can you hear Me?
Before Abraham the world was in a very poor state. Human beings cannot measure the ability of others without first administering a test. G’d does not need tests to measure our ability. G’d wanted to demonstrate to the world how great was Abraham’s love for G’d. Offspring inherit both the spiritual and physical makeup of their ancestors. From Abraham the Jewish people inherited our love for the Holy Land. “Whatever G’d does is for the good” is an attitude that the Jewish people have inherited from Abraham. We have inherited the ability to withstand difficult tests from our father Abraham.
After the Great Flood that destroyed the world except for Noah and those on the ark with him, and after the Tower of Babel when G’d confused the one language and scattered everyone over the face of the earth, the world was in a very poor state. Since the days of Enosh, idol worship had become the accepted norm and almost everyone had forgotten about G’d. And then came Abraham, our forefather, who with his unbelievable courage and lovingkindness restored G’d’s relationship with the world.
The Mishna says in Pirkei Avos (5:4), “Our forefather Abraham was tested with ten tests and he withstood them all to show how great was Abraham’s love for G’d”. In general, a test is given to someone to measure the ability to perform a certain task. For example, if a person wishes to attend a prestigious school, there is an entrance examination to see how the person will handle this test. A high score on the entrance examination is used as a measure to confirm that someone has the necessary ability to perform well at the school. In the absence of prophecy or other spiritual gifts, human beings cannot measure the ability of others without first administering a test.
Nothing is hidden from G’d
But G’d knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Nothing is hidden from G’d. All of our thoughts and actions in the past, present and future are known to G’d. When G’d puts a person to a test, G’d knows the results even before the person performs the test. G’d does not need tests to measure our ability.
Abraham’s great love for G’d
G’d did not test Abraham ten times to see how he would perform. This is apparent from the fact that G’d did not wait to choose Abraham as the patriarch of the Jewish people until after the tests. As it says in Nehemiah (9:10-11), “it is You G’d who chose Abram, brought him out of Ur Kasdim and made his name Abraham”. G’d chose Abraham and then tested him because G’d wanted to demonstrate to the world how great was Abraham’s love for G’d. (G’d changed Abram’s name to Abraham after informing him that he will father a multitude of nations (Bereishis 17:4-4).
Rav Chaim Volozhiner points out an additional purpose of Abraham’s ten tests. When a righteous person toils and overcomes a test, he transmits to future generations the ability to build upon what already was accomplished. Offspring inherit both the spiritual and physical makeup of their ancestors. As King Solomon says in Proverbs (20:7), “the righteous person walks in his integrity, ‘blessed’ are his children after him.” They are blessed because the righteous path has already been paved for them. The offspring do not have to exert nearly as much effort to raise themselves to spiritual heights, as they stand on the shoulders of their righteous ancestors.
The Holy Land
Rav Chaim Volozhiner continues pointing out that the Jewish people have been exiled from our homeland for almost 2000 years. Nevertheless, the yearning to return to the Holy Land was never extinguished. Throughout the generations Jews endured unthinkable hardships to fulfil their dream of living in the land of our ancestors. Simple nationalism would not have lasted for 2000 years. There is a Holy Bond between the Holy Land and the Holy Nation. We inherited this bond from our patriarch Abraham. In this week’s Torah portion, G’d commands Abram, “Leave your land, your relatives, your father’s house, to go to the land that I will show you” (Bereishis 12:1). Abraham passed this difficult test, leaving his whole life behind him to venture to an unknown land. The Holy Land was given by G’d to Abraham. The Jewish people inherited love for the Holy Land from Abraham and this Holy Bond continues to be passed down by generation to generation.
Trust in G’d
The Jewish people have had the ability to withstand tremendous hardships throughout their long and bitter exile and to exclaim that whatever G’d does is for the best. When things apparently seemed to be bad, even simple Jews with their strong faith and trust in G’d, knew that this was another hardship and test sent by G’d. Again, we inherited this trust in G’d from another of Abraham’s tests. G’d commanded Abraham to go to the Holy Land. Soon after he arrived, there was a severe famine and Abraham had to descend to Egypt for food (Bereishis 12:10). Rather than to question G’d’s wisdom of originally sending him to a land where there was no food, Abraham trusted G’d. “Whatever G’d does is for the good” (Berachot 60b) is an attitude that the Jewish people have inherited from Abraham. With this inheritance, we have survived persecution, pogroms, and other horrible atrocities. When we trust G’d with our lives we stand on the shoulders of our father Abraham.
These are difficult times. The world at large and the Jewish people in particular are going through hardships and difficulties. We have inherited the ability to withstand difficult tests from our father Abraham. May we overcome our tests by strengthening our faith and trust in G’d, just as Abraham passed his tests so many years ago.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network