Parshat Lech Lecha presents us with the unfolding of Jewish history. Avraham is the first Jew, not the first monotheist. The greatness of Avraham as told to us in Bereshit (18:19) is his ability to transmit his values and beliefs to future generations, something that his great predecessors including Chanoch, Noach, Shem, and Ever were not able to do. The Mishna in Masechet Avot (5:4) teaches that, “Asarah Nisyonot Nitnasa Avraham Avinu Veamad Bekulam, Lehodiya Kamah Chibaso Shel Avraham Avinu.” “Our forefather Avraham was tested with ten trials and he withstood them all, to show the degree of our forefather Avraham’s love for God.” Although there are different ways to reckon the exact nature of the ten tests, according to the Bartenura, seven of these tests are found in Parshas Lech Lecha.
What is the purpose of a test? It is clearly for man, as Hashem knows if man will pass the test or not. The Ohr HaChaim in his commentary on Bereshit (3:4,5) asks why Hashem tested the first couple with the snake. The Ohr HaChaim suggests that ultimately it is in man’s best interest to be challenged, and pass the test. Moreover, the reward received is equal with the energies expended in passing the test, as we are taught in Avot (5:23) “Lefum: Tzaara Agra” “corresponding to the pain/difficulty and struggle is the gain and personal reward.” The very term Nisayon (test or trial) comes from ness, banner. Each triumph over a test elevates the individual. Without tests, there is no personal advancement or growth.
Avraham was not born “Avraham Avinu,” our father, rather he developed and matured his relationship with Hashem by overcoming his basic instincts and living a life dedicated to higher standards. The Torah teaches us in Bereshit (15:5) that Hashem took Avraham outside to count the stars and say to him “Koh Yehiye Zaracha,” “Thus shall be your seed.” In addition to the literal interpretation that his children would be as many as the stars, Rashi cites the Midrash which teaches that Hashem removed Avraham from this world and informed him that Avram would not have a son but Avraham would; Hashem would change his name and his destiny. Rashi (17:1) explains the significance of adding the letter Hey to Avram’s name as signifying Avraham’s ability to control and master the five organs (eyes, ears, and procreation). Avram grows into Avraham. Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldwicht zt"l, founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Kerem Biyavneh, explains that the Pasuk “Koh Yehiye Zaracha,” “Thus shall be your seed,” can be interpreted as saying that so to will your children possess the ability to rise above their challenges and pass their tests. This may be seen from the Medrash Bereshit Rabbah (87:8) that attributes Yosef’s ability to “flee and run outside” (Bereshit 39:15) and pass his test to the merit of his great-grandfather Avraham, regarding whom we are told similarly, “Vayotze Oto Hachutza,” “Hashem brought him outside.”
The Gemara Sanhedrin, 107a, teaches in the name of R. Yehudah in the name of Rav, “A person should never bring himself to a test,” i.e., should not place himself into a situation in where will be tested to sin, for King David brought himself to a test and stumbled and succumbed to temptation. David asked Hashem why he could not be included in the opening blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, and amend the blessing to read, “God of Avraham, God of Issac, God of Jacob, and God of David.” Hashem answered that the three patriarchs were tested by Him and withstood the tests, whereas David had not been tested. David then asked to be tested. Hashem agreed and even told him that the test would be in the area of physical temptation. Though forewarned, that night, David sinned with Bat-Sheva.
It is true that every morning we pray, “Do not bring us into the power of error, nor into the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge,” as we are fearful that we will not pass the test. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt"l in Sichot Mussar (5733:6) explains that when Hashem tests an individual, He provides them as well with the ability to pass the test. Hashem only tests those that can pass. However, when one brings a test upon himself, he is not necessarily awarded the divine assistance needed to pass. We conclude the Hallel with “Oidcha Ki Anitani,” “I thank you Hashem for answering me.” The Malbim understands this to mean, “I thank you for the challenges and difficulties you have placed before me,” as the Ohr Hachayim teaches, that “the greater the physical and spiritual effort to overcome potential impediments to our faith, the greater the reward stored up in Heaven for such acts of faith.”