The Eleventh Test by Rabbi Steven Prebor


The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:3) states that Avraham was tested ten times.  There is a dispute regarding which ten events in Avraham’s life are to be included in this list.  Most opinions view Akeidat Yitzchak as the final test, although Rabbeinu Yonah claims that Sarah’s burial is the last one.  There is an event that takes place after Sarah’s burial which, although not formally included in anyone’s list of tests, still reflects the type of challenge to which Avraham was subjected in these tests.

Avraham tells his servant (presumably Eliezer) to go to Avraham’s birthplace to find a wife for Yitzchak.  The servant is concerned that the woman he chooses for Yitzchak might not come back with him without seeing her future husband.  He therefore asks if he would be allowed to bring Yitzchak to Aram.  Avraham replies with an emphatic no, Yitzchak was not to leave Canaan under any circumstances.  Later on, in Parshat Toldot, Hashem is equally emphatic to Yitzchak, even in a time of famine.  Rashi explains that after the Akeida, Yitzchak maintained the status of an עולה תמימה, a perfect Korban, and thus could not leave the Holy Land.

Avraham is faced with a dilemma.  If Yitzchak is to succeed Avraham in the formation of the Jewish Nation, he has to have an appropriate wife.  Avraham states unequivocally that all Canaanite women are therefore excluded.  This necessitates a trip to Aram Naharayim, a trip that Yitzchak cannot take.  Would the servant be able to find the right woman?  Would she agree to follow him blindly?  Avraham expresses his attitude with the following words: ה' אלוקי השמים אשר לקחני מבית אבי ומארץ מולדתי ואשר נשבע לי לאמר לזרעך אתן את הארץ הזאת הוא ישלך מלאכיו לפניך ולקחת אשה לבני משם, “Hashem, God of the heavens, Who took me from the house of my father and the land of my birth, and Who promised me saying, ‘To your children I will give this land,’ He will send His angel in front of you [the servant] and you will take a wife for my son from there” (24:7).

The Chizkuni claims that this is a prophecy, and Avraham is telling his servant not to worry because he foresees that everything will work out.  The problem with this explanation arises from the following Pasuk: Avraham had made his servant swear that he would follow Avraham’s guidelines.  In Pasuk 8, Avraham says that if the woman does not want to follow the servant, he is absolved from the oath.  Avraham is thereby entertaining the possibility that it will not necessarily work out as planned.  How, can Pasuk 7 be a prophecy if Avraham is expressing doubt?  As a result of this problem, the Ibn Ezra claims that it is not a prophecy, but rather a prayer.  Avraham is praying to Hashem and asking Him to make everything work out.

The Rashbam, it appears, has a third approach.  He uses the term יודע אני, “I know,” to describe what Avraham is feeling.  According to the Rashbam, therefore, it is neither a prophecy nor a prayer, but an expression of faith.  It is almost as if Avraham is being tested once again.  How does Avraham then deal with this latest challenge?  By expressing his faith so clearly and confidently that it appears as if he is prophesizing the outcome.  Such faith on Avraham’s part is indeed striking given how outlandish the plan seems.  Then again, given the contradiction inherent in the Akeida (“through Yitzchak you will be a father of a great nation” vs. “bring Yitzchak as an offering to Me”), this situation pales in comparison.

In any event, Avraham serves as a role model to us.  We are faced with many situations that have inherent contradictions.  Often it is a religious obligation with which Hashem challenges us.  In recent days, we have seen this with the Mitzva of living in the Land of Israel.  The situation in Israel makes it look at times as if Hashem is making it more difficult for us to fulfill His Mitzvot.  That probably is the case, as it was with Avraham.  We are not prophets; however, we can be prayer-givers.  In addition, we can express Bitachon and the “knowledge” that Hashem will “send His angels” in whatever form that may be.

To Life, To Life, לחיים by Yechiel Shaffer

Paroh’s Compromise by Uri Weiss