Lech Lecha: The Greatness of Avraham
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says that Avraham was given ten tests, which he passed completely with flying colors. Ramban explains that the purpose of the tests was not so much to prove Avraham’s worthiness to Hashem, because naturally, Hashem would already know that Avraham was totally virtuous. Rather, the test itself builds a person, challenges a person, and through withstanding life’s tests and challenges, the person becomes great. In the words of Ramban, ‘a test actualizes and changes the mere potential into reality’.
Rav Elya Lopian z”l has a beautiful insight into the developing nature of the tests and their relevance to our lives as well.
Chazal tell us that Avraham recognized Hashem at a very young age, and immediately began to act upon that knowledge; Avraham challenged the world order of Idol worship, smashed his father’s molten images, and endured tremendous suffering at the hands of King Nimrod. Nimrod offered the young Avram the choice to ‘follow along’ with everyone else, or find himself thrown into a fiery furnace. Avram chose the latter, demonstrating his willingness to give up his life based on his convictions and principles.
It is important to note that at this point in Avraham’s life, he had yet to receive prophecy or a message of any kind from Hashem. He was acting totally alone based on his own understanding. But so strong were his convictions that he was willing to forgo his life.
This certainly does not come naturally, and is not easy by any means. Contrast this with the king of Sodom, who even after witnessing the wondrous defeat of the world powers at the hand of Avraham, and experiencing miracles himself in the merit of Avraham, he still went along his sinful ways and led his country and citizens to destruction. Avraham, on the other hand, was willing to live his life, and even give up his life for his ideals even before witnessing any miracles or signs from Hashem.
This was the nature of the first of the tests: internalize your beliefs and be ready to live by them; stand up to Nimrod in the face of certain death.
Asks Rav Elya zt”l: the greatest test of all was Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice his cherished son Yitzchak; seemingly, this should be the easiest, because by now, he was a certified prophet, and heard the command directly from Hashem Himself! Who wouldn’t listen? Wasn't his first test the more challenging, to follow Hashem without hearing from Hashem?!
Explains Rav Elya, on the contrary- Avraham already developed the ability to act upon his knowledge and values. That was easy! Risking his life, rejecting idol worship, leaving his hometown and former life behind, by now this was natural. The test of the Akeidah was now to take to the next level; listen to Me even if it runs contrary to what you understand; follow Me as a servant, unquestionably fulfilling his master’s commands. Emunah begins where certainty ends.
This progression of ‘tests’ is what made Avraham the great person he was. And through this, he became the ‘Av’; the father of the Jewish People. And as our father, and by virtue of being his descendants, we inherit this spiritual DNA to pass our tests and challenges as well. And we too, have the ability to grow and rise to the challenge, to overcome both the things we understand, as well as the things we do not yet understand.
Have a wondeful Shabbos!