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Parshas Vayera

The Tests of Time
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The story of Avraham Avinu is continued in this week's parsha. We learn the extent of Avraham's chesed. He searched for guests, even after performing his own bris, at the age of ninety-nine. But his search was in vain. No wayfarers passed by, as there was a scorching heat wave and Avraham became distressed at having no one to bestow kindness on. We also see Avraham's alacrity when it comes to performing mitzvos. Three angels in the guise of men finally appeared and he insisted on serving them himself, constantly running, even though he was still recovering from the circumcision. The Torah also reveals his compassion for all people. Although the city of S'dom personified evil and was opposed to everything that Avraham stood for, nevertheless, he empathised with the suffering that they were destined to endure and pleaded for mercy on their behalf. We also learn of Avraham's trust and loyalty to Hashem. Although he loved his son Yishmael dearly, he sent him away, as commanded by Hashem. The Akeida, the binding of Yitzchak, is the climax of the parsha. The ultimate test, Avraham showed complete faith in Hashem, and did not question His decrees. This was also a tremendous display of his deep love for the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe. We can all be inspired and learn from these incidents. Fortunate are the Jewish people to have such a illustrious forefather as Avraham.

Let us ask, when did Avraham receive the title Avraham Avinu, Avraham our forefather and how did he merit this name? Logic would dictate that when Yitzchak was born, Avraham could be accurately referred to as Avinu. Rabbi Chaim Valozhin zt"l has a different answer to this question. In his commentary on Pirkei Avos, he contrasts two Mishnayos which mention Avraham. The first Mishna states that there were ten generations from Noach to Avraham. While the next Mishna teaches that Hashem gave Avraham Avinu ten tests (Avos 5:2,3). Why does the first Mishna refer to him simply as Avraham, while the following Mishna refers to him as Avraham Avinu? Rabbi Chaim Valozhin states that we see from here that Avraham isn't our forefather solely as a result of being our physical ancestor, but also as a result of being our spiritual forefather (Ruach Chaim 5:2).

It says in Mishlei, a tzaddik can toil with great effort to reach his goals and his descendants will then carry on his ideals with relative ease. The tzaddik plods to make the path, and then his children simply walk through on the well-worn trail. What one attains becomes part of himself, it is in his genes which pass on to the next generation. This was Avraham Avinu's Avodah, to toil and pass the ten tests, to ingrain them in his being so that the lessons gained would become imprinted in the psyche of the following generations. Reb Chaim says that if one looks at the tests and looks at the many traits of the Jewish people, they will be very similar. This is because Avraham lived through these tests to give us these traits. Let us examine a few.

Jews of every era, no matter what their station in life and level of observance have always been ready to give up their lives al Kiddush Hashem. From what inner source does this derive? From Avraham Avinu who jumped into the kivshan ha'aish - fiery furnace. And who was it that was ready to give up his son's life in the Akeidas Yitzchak?

Jews throughout the ages have voluntarily gone up to Eretz Yisrael, abandoned their often comfortable lifestyles, risked dangerous journeys to get there and without so much as a worry as to how they will make a parnassa. Even people brought up in Western society with all it's comforts and financial security pick up and go, not worried about how they will survive materially, forsaking many values with which they have been imbued since childhood. This level of commitment comes from Avraham Avinu. When Hashem said "Lech Lecha", he went immediately without any questions. Many of Avraham's children do just the same.

A fundamental belief is that whatever happens to one is for the good. From where does this lofty trait come? Again Avraham Avinu. After going to Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of Hashem's will, there was a famine. Avraham accepted this without complaint, without even once questioning G-d.

He passed these traits on to us. Whatever greatness we can attain springs from the seeds that Avraham planted. Directly from his tireless efforts in a world where everything was set against him, we now have the potential to become whatever we desire. Every great act that any Jew does, bears Avraham's signature, and is a testimony to his great achievements.

Last week we mentioned that we must strive to emulate the Avos. We aim to be the greatest and since they were the first we consider them the greatest. R' Chaim Valozhin adds another dimension in our quest to follow their lead. We can say that we strive to emulate the Avos in order that our deeds should be akin to their deeds. Avraham's whole life was in preparation for building Klal Yisrael. He implanted in our innermost recesses everything we can achieve. We should also consider our lives as a time of preparation. Even before we dream of having children, our experiences and actions are penetrating our beings. They make us who we are and enable us to mould our own children. We should perform our actions with so much enthusiasm and dedication in order that they should be ingrained in our beings as well as in those of the next generation! This is our hope - that we should be Avos for our children and that our actions will be worthy to be deemed Maasei Avos, deeds of the Forefathers.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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