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15.10.2013 15:50    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: abraham  torah  parashah  ya’akov halevi filber  

Courtesy of Machon Meir

“Abraham was tried with ten trials” (Avot 5:4). What purpose did these trials serve?

Our sages (Bereshit Rabbah 54) illustrated by way of a parable the trials’ purpose:

“Rabbi Yonatan said: A craftsman does not examine jugs if he knows that they are so

flimsy that they will break if he bangs on them once. He only examines jugs that won’t break

even if he bangs on them. In the same way, it is not the wicked who G-d tests, but the

righteous, as it says, ‘G-d tries the righteous’ (Psalm 11:5).

“Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina said: When the flax worker knows that his flax is nice, the

more he pounds it the finer it becomes. When it is of low quality, however, pounding it once

is enough to ruin it. In the same way, G-d does not test the wicked, but only the righteous, as

it says, ‘G-d tries the righteous.’

“Rabbi Lezer said: If someone has two oxen, one strong and the other weak, on which

one will he place his burden? Surely on the strong one. In the same way, G-d only tests the

righteous, as it says, ‘G-d tries the righteous.’

“Still another thought: The verse, ‘G-d tries the righteous’ refers to Abraham, as it

says, ‘G-d tested Abraham’ (Genesis 22:1).”

According to this Midrash, there are several purposes to G-d’s testing the righteous

person. These including strengthening him further (like pounding the flax) and publicizing

his greatness (testing the jugs). These purposes applied in the case of Abraham as well. His

tests served to strengthen him, as the Netziv wrote in his “Ha’amek Davar” (22:1):

“A man, in his inner essence, is capable of lofty deeds. Yet, as long as he does not

actualize his potential, it will not be rooted in him. G-d therefore causes man to be tested,

thereby strengthening him and actualizing his potential. Then his potential becomes

entrenched within him. Likewise, G-d elevated Abraham’s spiritual potential by way of the

Binding of Isaac. Once this potential became entrenched within him, it remained a genetic

Jewish quality for all time.

“Likewise, the test of his being commanded to go to Canaan served to publicize

Abraham, as the Midrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni, Lech Lecha, 62):

“‘To what may Abraham be compared? To a plate of balsam oil sitting in the corner

where its aroma does not permeate the room. Once it is moved, however, its aroma wafts

forth. In the same way, G-d told Abraham, ‘Move yourself around from place to place, and

your fame will be magnified throughout the world.’”

At the same time, the trials faced by Abraham served educational purposes as well.

They served to set Abraham in the right place. For example, the trial of his being

commanded to leave his home is customarily interpreted as revolving around the difficulty of

leaving, of cutting oneself off from one’s father’s home, one’s social milieu, one’s relatives

and friends, and of going to a strange, unknown land. Our sages, however, take it in a

different direction. After all, many people on a lower level than Abraham, in the past and in

our own times as well, face this trial, such as the newly religious, or new immigrants. As

Scripture says of Ruth: “You left your father and mother and your birthplace, and you came

to a people that you did not know before” (2:11). By contrast, when Abraham set out on his

way, he was not alone. Rather, he was with family, and with the “souls that he had won over

in Charan” (Genesis 12:5), which according to Rambam (Avodah Zarah, Chapter 1)

comprised tens of thousands.

Our sages therefore explain that the trial of Abraham’s being told to leave his home

was meant to teach him that one must remain obedient to G-d’s command, even if

superficially it appears to contradict the ethical norms of mankind, and sometimes even

verges on a “profanation of G-d’s name.” The Midrash thus teaches (Bereshit Rabbah 39):

“Abraham was afraid, and he said: I will set out, and people will profane G-d’s name

through me, saying, ‘Abraham abandoned his father in his old age.’ G-d therefore said to

him, ‘Go! I am exempting you from honoring your father and mother, but I am not

exempting anyone else.’”

Abraham knew the law at the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch: “One should not be

embarrassed before those who mock him in his service of G-d.” After all, it was for this that

he was called the “Ivri”. To explain this the Midrash teaches (Pesikta Rabbati 33):

“What was meant by ‘ivri’? The whole world was on one side [Hebrew ‘ever’] and he

was on the other, and he loved G-d and worshipped Him. That was why G-d called him the


Yet in this test there was a collision between two mitzvot, on the one hand, “honoring

one’s father,” and on the other hand, G-d’s command to Abraham to leave Charan. Abraham

feared lest in fulfilling the latter, he would cause G-d’s name to be profaned.

We very often encounter situations in which if we fulfill a particular mitzvah, it will

impinge on “human dignity”. An example is when we refrain from shaking the hand of a

woman who is holding out her hand to us. Here Abraham learned that under such

circumstances one must fulfill his Creator’s command. One must conquer one’s emotions

and cling even to deeds that seem to be contradicting the ideas and values that we preach.

The same applies with the trial of the circumcision. Abraham’s test did not involve the

pain that circumcision causes a person. After all, here as well, people on a lower level than

Abraham have themselves been circumcised at an advanced age (like the Russian

immigrants). Rather, the mitzvah of circumcision engendered in Abraham the fear that if he

were different from all the people around him, it would hinder his bringing them under the

wings of the divine presence. He therefore went to get advice from his friend Mamre. (As

Rashi comments (Genesis 18:1), it was Mamre who advised him to go ahead and circumcise


Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook asks in his book “Midbar Shur”: How could Abraham

have harbored doubts about G-d’s command such that he went to get advice about whether or

not to fulfill it? Rather, Abraham wondered whether it was not a case of, “A time to act for

G-d: Violate the Torah!” (our sages’ paraphrase of Psalm 119:126). His friend Mamre

therefore told him, “Don’t try to be smarter than G-d. You do what G-d commands you, and

leave worries about outreach to G-d.”

From this as well we can learn a timeless lesson regarding how to relate to those far

removed from Torah. With all of our desire to strengthen unity, we must preserve our

uniqueness and not blur it.


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