Why Test? by Akiva Sturm


Parashat Lech Lecha begins with Avraham Avinu's first test – to leave behind his family, household, and childhood possessions in order to follow God’s lead to a new land. Hashem tells Avraham, "Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha UMiMoladtecha UMiBeit Avicha El HaAretz Asher Ar’eka,” “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (BeReishit 12:1). Although it must have been very difficult for Avraham to abandon his aged father and leave his homeland, could this really be viewed as a test? Didn’t God, who can foresee the future, know that Avraham would pass the test?

A story is told of a man who trained to become a public speaker. He read all of the material he was able to find and learned many great methods of public speaking. He watched some of the most experienced and charismatic speakers and spent many hours rehearsing by himself. This man may have known all about speaking, but since he never actually lectured in front of a live audience, he cannot be considered a public speaker. This man will be considered a public speaker only after he challenges himself and delivers a speech. It is the only way he can progress.

Similarly, a man challenged with controlling his anger can learn all about the dangers of anger and resolve never to get angry again, but until he is placed into a situation which in the past would have infuriated him and overcomes the urge to become enraged, we cannot say that the man has changed. A test is what advances a person to the next level.

Hashem knows that Avraham will pass the difficult task of leaving his entire life behind. However, He tests Avraham to enable him to enhance his trust in God. The test brings Avraham’s latent potential into reality and makes him a better person, as explained by Ramban to BeReishit 22:1.

"Lech Lecha" (12:1) literally means "go to yourself." This supports the idea that Avraham’s task was an internal one which ultimately enabled Avraham to progress to the next level in his Avodat Hashem. When one passes a daunting test, he discovers his true essence and reveals to himself who he can become.

In Parashiyot BeReishit and Noach, the Torah relates stories pertaining to humanity as a whole, such as the creation of the world and the destruction of most of mankind. This pattern is broken in Parashat Lech Lecha, which focuses on the personal life of Avraham Avinu. In his article “The Power of Example,” former Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rav Jonathan Sacks, explains that the Torah narrows its focus on Avraham Avinu because he is “a living, vivid, persuasive example of what it is to live by the will of God.” Rav Sacks explains that when we read of Avraham’s triumphs, Avraham will serve as an inspiration to us, and we will attempt to emulate him. Each time Avraham Avinu passes a test, he becomes a greater person and serves as an example to the world of overcoming obstacles while maintaining faith in Hashem. We should strive to follow Avraham’s example and view any challenges we encounter as opportunities for growth rather than as difficulties.

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