Avraham’s Eternal, Grueling Test by Shlomo Klapper


Hashem commands Avraham Avinu, “Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha,” “Go for yourself from your land” (BeReishit 12:1), which, according to Rashi, means that Avraham should leave his land for his own benefit.  However, if Hashem told Avraham to leave his land and birthplace for his own benefit, why is this command numbered among Avraham’s ten tests?

The Panim Yafot explains that to fulfill Hashem’s command LiShmah, for Heaven’s sake, is not an easy task; moreover, doing something completely LiShmah is exponentially more difficult if the person who does it benefits directly from his duty.  Albeit Hashem told him that Eretz Yisrael will bring him personal benefit, Avraham trekked to Israel with no intentions other than to obey Hashem’s command, a task far harder than simply obeying Hashem’s command.  The Torah records that “KaAsher Dibeir Eilav Hashem,” “(Avraham went) as Hashem had spoken to him” (12:4), exemplifying how Avraham’s personal gain played no role in his fulfillment of Hashem’s command and his only goal was to obey Hashem.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin suggests an alternative, though similar, approach based on a teaching of Antignos Ish Socho (Avot 1:3).  The Mishnah teaches that one should serve Hashem not out of a desire to be rewarded but rather out of love, yet the Gemara (Sotah 14a) teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu longed to enter Israel in order to fulfill and get reward for the Mitzvot HaTeluyot BaAretz, the commandments that can be fulfilled only in Israel.  How can the Mishnah teach thus in light of Moshe’s motive? 

Rav Chaim explains that God, as the Ultimate Good, desires to inundate others with His kindness; however, favors are humiliating to the beneficiary if not properly earned.  Thus, Hashem created Mitzvot to be fulfilled so He could properly bestow His kindness, and one who ideally performs Mitzvot wants to enable Hashem to fulfill His wish of bestowing kindness upon others. Perhaps Chazal intend this when then state in Pirkei Avot (4:2), “The Reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah,” since allowing Hashem to have pleasure by doing a Mitzvah and obtaining His compassion is a Mitzvah in itself.  This ideal Mitzvah-doer would thus not care if his reward went to someone else.  Since, however, most of us are not on this level, Antignos felt it necessary to warn us not to serve Hashem as a servant who seeks reward.  Only Moshe, who was totally dedicated to Hashem, legitimately could do Mitzvot and receive reward, in order that Hashem’s desire to bestow kindness be satisfied.

Thus, we can understand Avraham’s test.  Even though immigrating to Israel was for Avraham’s good, Hashem was testing Avraham whether his motives for fulfilling the Mitzvah were ideal, and Avraham fulfilled the Mitzvah to facilitate Hashem’s wish, or whether Avraham would fulfill the Mitzvah for the enticing materialistic rewards.  Avraham passes the test, as the Torah writes, “KaAsher Dibeir Eilav Hashem,” “(Avraham went) as Hashem had spoken to him” (12:4).

Rav Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, the author of the Haflaah, explains that the test was solely about Avraham’s motivation to leave his land.  Would Avraham go to Israel because of the material gains, or would he leave to fulfill Hashem’s command?  Avraham’s motivation was the latter, as the Torah writes “KaAsher Dibeir Eilav Hashem,” “(Avraham went) as Hashem had spoken to him” (12:1).  Acing the test to determine if he was worthy of fathering a nation that will inherit Israel, Avraham disregarded his physical and financial needs and jumped at the opportunity to make Aliyah, as Hashem commanded.

From these three approaches we see about a modulated version of Avraham’s test in our own lives.  This test of uprooting himself and moving, the Midrash HaGadol teaches, was the hardest test posed to Avraham, who disregarded financial needs and made Aliyah to fulfill Hashem’s will.  Nowadays, we are blessed that Jews control much of the land of Israel, but uprooting oneself and making Aliyah is still a grueling test, as it was in Avraham’s time.  Jews, however, belong in Israel.  No other nation banished from their native land for two millennia has prayed thrice daily for return or kept the nation’s name the same as the land’s (the etymology of ‘Jews’ is Judea, another name of Israel).  One does not have to look far in the Torah to realize that it is Hashem’s will for His children to be in the land He promised to them, Israel.  Perhaps after more fully understanding Avraham’s test and that the same test applies today, we, children of Avraham, should strongly consider following in his footsteps.

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