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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. The Jewish people inherited our love for the Holy Land from Abraham. " We also inherited from Abraham the ability to accept that "Whatever G'd does is for the good". We further inherited from him the strength to withstand difficult tests.
The Great Flood destroyed the world. Only Noah and those on the ark with him were saved. At the Tower of Babel, G'd confused the one language so that people no longer understood each and scattered everyone over the face of the earth. After these events, 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 patriarch, 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 their 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. When someone has a high score on the entrance examination, it proves that this person has the necessary ability to perform well at the school. In the absence of prophecy or the like, human beings cannot measure the ability of others without first administering a test.
Nothing is hidden from G'd
G'd, on the other hand, knows each of us even better than we know ourselves. Nothing is hidden from Him. All of our thoughts and actions in the past, present and future are known to G'd. So why would G'd put a person to a test? He knows the results even before the person performs the test. Obviously, G'd does not need tests to measure our ability.
Abraham's great love for G'd
The answer is that 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), "You are HASHEM, G'd who chose Abram, brought him out of Ur Kasdim and made his name Abraham and You found his heart faithful before You." G'd first chose Abraham and then only afterwards did He test him in order to demonstrate to the world how great was Abraham's love for G'd, as the above Mishna concludes.
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 he already accomplished. Offspring inherit both the spiritual and physical makeup of their ancestors (see Mishna Edeyos 2:9). 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 by 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. From where do Jews all over the world have this drive? We inherited this 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 Land of Israel was given by G'd to Abraham. The Jewish people inherited not just the land, but a special love for it from Abraham. This strong and special bond continues to be passed down by generation to generation right to our days.
Trust in G'd
The Jewish people have excelled in their ability to withstand tremendous hardships throughout their long and bitter exile and always accepted 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. >From where do they draw such strength? 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 persecutions, pogroms, and other horrible atrocities. When we put our trust in G'd in all situations we stand on the shoulders of our father Abraham.
We live in difficult times. The descendants of Ishmael are terrorizing the world at large and the Jewish people in particular. However, we must realize that all our hardships and difficulties are G'd given tests. We experience today the fulfilment of the words of the angel to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael. As it says in this week's Torah portion, (Bereishis 16:10-12) "I will greatly increase your descendants … you will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you shall name him Ishmael … and he will be a savage of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and over all his brothers (all over the world) shall he dwell." These tests are designed to elevate us and bring us closer to the love of G'd, and we have to draw on the strength and ability to withstand such difficult tests that we have inherited from our father Abraham. Rather than trusting our own power and the might of our allies around the world, we must overcome our tests by strengthening our faith and trust in G'd, just as Abraham did 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