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Weekly Chizuk

Parashas Chayei Sarah

It's in Our Genes

Rav Chaim Volozhin writes (in Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avos 5:3):

"Avraham Avinu was tested with ten nisyonos" (Pirkei Avos 5:3). Here it says, "Avraham Avinu" (our forefather), while above it says, "There were ten generations from Avraham until No'ach," and it doesn't call him "Avinu." We can explain this by applying the verse "A tzaddik walks in his sincerity; happy are his children after him" (Mishlei 20:7). How many mitzvos did a tzaddik work hard and toil to achieve, which to his children after him are engraved in their nature - and with just a little bit of effort they reach the same level! As we see in real experience, so many Jews show real acts of Jewishness. Even simple laymen give up their lives for kiddush Hashem. This is something that we inherited from our forefather Avraham, who was willing to give up his life in Ur Kasdim for the sake of his faith. All of the ten tests smoothed the path for us. Also, how many people get a sudden urge to go to the Holy Land, to Eretz Yisrael! This is from the test of Lech Lecha ("Go out from your land"). And as for a Jew's ability to accept everything that happens from Heaven as good, this comes from the nisayon of the famine, when Avraham did not question God's commands.

All of the tests which passed over Avraham made it easier for us to do mitzvos, even though we don't understand. We have inherited this from Avraham Avinu. Rav Chaim Volozhin emphasizes, "With just a little bit of effort we are able to accomplish great things." This is not anything new for us. It is already part of our nature, which we inherited from Avraham Avinu. He paved the way and made it easier for us. Therefore this should be our job as b'nei Torah, to ignore all the difficulties which pass over us in our spiritual development. Just like the soldier whose courage is shown specifically on the battlefield when the bullets are flying all around him, so too the ben Torah should know that he has to pass through a world of tests and it is his job to excel in them, until he attains a sweetness in his learning and becomes great in Torah.

Only a fool gives up. He doesn't understand any of this. With the first test that stands in his way, he packs his bags and leaves. When he sees his friends succeeding more than he, it is very hard for him. However, as we said, it is specifically within this very test that his development is hidden and in this way will he acquire greatness. Even with Avraham Avinu, it was the tests which made him into Avraham Avinu. He didn't merely stand up to the test and overpower it; rather, with each test that he passed through, he grew and developed and thus he accomplished.

Through nisyonos one gains a courageous heart. Through nisyonos one gains strong faith, emunah. This builds the person. Don't ask, "Why is it so much easier for my friend?" On the contrary -perhaps because I merit more, therefore it is harder for me. "God tests the one He loves." Can we fathom the way of Hashgachah? It is not our job, or within the grasp of our understanding, to understand God's ways. Why is it so hard specifically for me? No, it is just the opposite! That's the proof! That shows that I have found favor in God's eyes. This is my way of growing; this is my path to greatness!

This is what Chazal themselves said:

"Go out from your land...." R. Berachyah introduced this parashah thus: "Your ointments have a goodly fragrance; your name is as ointments poured forth" (Shir HaShirim 1:3). R. Berachyah said, "To what was Avraham Avinu similar? To a flask of fine oil sealed and put aside in the corner. Its fragrance was not spreading. But as soon as it was moved, it gave forth its fragrance. Thus HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Avraham Avinu, 'Move yourself from place to place and your name will become great in the world'" (Bereishis Rabbah 39:2).

This is a person's greatness, not to worry about difficulties. Just the contrary - if we understood, they wouldn't be tests. If Avraham Avinu had been shown where he was going, what nisayon would this have been? Certainly he would have gone in order to inherit the land of Canaan which had all of the promise and success of the world. Instead, how much torment did he suffer? He traveled from place to place, wandering and straying in his journey, not knowing where he was going, where to direct his feet. And there was also the nisayon of the Akeidah: "Yesterday You told me...and now...." Nisyonos are what cause us to grow, and we cannot compare one person's nisyonos to another's. Each person has his own talents and strengths. Each person has to reach a different greatness. It isn't something one can understand; rather, it depends purely upon Divine Providence.

This is why the Rambam headed his list of the ten nisyonos specifically with God's commandment: Lech Lecha and not Ur Casdim. Here it was possible to recognize Avraham's great desire to do God's mitzvos, for that test was where he was led to stray. It was an act of great sacrifice. His greatness wasn't expressed by his self-sacrifice in being thrown into a fiery furnace, for when a person understands what is happening to him, there are no difficulties preventing the person from bringing out his inner desire. After all, people constantly travel long distances for big business ventures in spite of the greatest difficulties involved.

We pray that God grant us the merit to stand up to the tests, and to understand that through them we can attain the standing of the courageous of heart. This is our strength, in spite of all hardship. We will accept everything that we encounter with love and with a willing soul. With the help of God we will attain true greatness.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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