by HaRav Yoel Stenitzky
The Ten Tests of Avrohom Ovinu
As far as Avrohom's ten tests, all opinions agree about
seven trials: 1) "Go you out of your country," 2) famine in
Eretz Yisroel, 3) Soroh's being taken by Pharaoh, 4) the War
of the Four Kings, 5) Hogor and Yishmoel's being sent away,
6) Bris Milah, and 7) Akeidas Yitzchok.
Opinions differ whether the following five are included: 1)
Ur Kasdim (not enumerated by the Rambam), 2) Bris Bein
HaBesorim (both the Rambam and Rabbenu Yonah do not reckon
it), 3) running away from Nimrod (listed among the ten only
according to Rashi), 4) Soroh's being taken by Avimelech
(according to the Rambam and Rabbenu Yonah), and 5) Hogor's
marrying Avrohom (a trial only according to the
In the first part, HaRav Stenitzky discussed the
kiddush Hashem of Avrohom in the furnace of Ur Kasdim,
and the fact that afterwards Avrohom Ovinu went around
disseminating consciousness of Hashem -- and that this was a
truly heroic act.
After Avrohom's first Divine trial, HaKodosh Boruch Hu
said to him, "Go out of your country, away from your
relatives, and from your father's house, to the land that I
will show you." Hashem commanded him to leave three things:
his country, his relatives, and his father's house.
But what was the enormous test involved in leaving his home?
We know of many people who leave their homes.
The Torah is teaching us an important principle: Each person
has certain things to which he is tied closely and from which
he experiences great difficulty departing. 1) He is connected
to his land: the local spoken language and his neighbors'
accustomed behavior. 2) A homeland connects a person to his
circle of relatives who lend a helping hand when in need. 3)
"From your father's house." A father's house is the closest
possible place for a person, a place where he is even
financially supported. HaKodosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom
to leave all three beneficial environments and to go to a
certain country called Canaan.
The Kli Yokor (ibid.) explains that an additional
element is close to man, and that is man himself. Hashem
commands man to "go out" and to reach his own essence. Man's
essence is Har Sinai, since on that mountain during
kabolas HaTorah he received an additional Divine part
of his neshomoh from Heaven. Man's duty in life is to
elevate himself to his source.
Perhaps we can explain the above according to the Rambam
(Hilchos Dei'os, 6:1): "Man is created in such a way
that he is influenced by his friends in his opinions and
acts, and behaves like others in his country. A person should
therefore have contact with tzaddikim and always live
near chachomim, so he can learn from the way they act.
He must distance himself from reshoim, who walk in
darkness, so he will not learn from their deeds."
HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded Avrohom Ovinu to go out
from all the places where wicked people live and to go to a
new land. He should build in Eretz Yisroel a new way of
worshiping the Creator. Even when a person sees overt
miracles, such as Avrohom Ovinu saw in Ur Kasdim, he is
liable to be influenced by his immediate environment.
We can learn yet another point from Avrohom. A person is not
allowed to say, "I am a tzaddik and virtuous in
comparison to the popular style of life." Instead he is told
to depart from his previous way of life and to build, alone,
a new way according to what Hashem wants. Even when others
are not acting properly one must be different from them.
Furthermore we inherited from Avrohom the courage even to be
a minority. Avrohom Ovinu opposed all the gods that the whole
world worshiped. He resisted all the desires that his
generation pursued, and of his own free will became a
ger. To do this a person must be exceptionally brave.
He must have Jewish stubbornness. This was the great trial
for Avrohom, and he withstood it.
Why did HaKodosh Boruch Hu say to abandon all three
factors? "Go out of your country, from your homeland
(relatives), and from your father's house." When a person
leaves his country, does he not anyway leave his relatives
and his father's house?
According to the way we have explained the verse, namely that
"homeland" refers to the people associated with a person and
"your father's house" refers to his closest relatives who
constantly support him, we understand that it is possible to
leave a country but to also take along those people who are
close to you. Hashem commanded Avrohom to take only his
household, his wife, and Lot, those who clung to him and not
others who did not cling to him. See the Midrash:
"`from your father's house'--I free you from the mitzvah of
honoring your father and mother."
The Trial of Famine
"There was a famine in the land" (Bereishis 12:10).
Rashi (ibid.) explains that only in that land, in
Eretz Yisroel, did famine hit. This was done to test Avrohom,
to see whether he would be skeptical about the benefit in
HaKodosh Boruch Hu's command to him to go to Eretz
Yisroel. The Ramban (ibid.) writes, "I want to
emphasize that unintentionally Avrohom Ovinu sinned greatly
when he caused his righteous wife to be tempted by sin
because of his fear that [the Egyptians] would kill him.
Avrohom should have trusted Hashem to save him, his wife, and
all he had. Elokim has the power to help and save.
"Also his leaving Eretz Yisroel, where he was commanded to
go, was a sin since Elokim can even rescue a person
from death. Hashem decreed golus for his offspring in
Egypt under the hand of Pharaoh because of [Avrohom's leaving
Eretz Yisroel when the famine came]. `In the place of
judgment, wickedness is there, and in the place of
righteousness, inequity is there' (Koheles 3:16)."
We apparently see that Avrohom failed to withstand this
trial, the trial of famine, but the commentaries enumerate
this among the trials that he withstood. Actually this trial
was only to see whether Avrohom Ovinu would complain and
criticize Hashem's ways. The Midrash Rabbah (30:2)
cites, in reference to Avrohom's trial of famine, the
posuk, "How fortunate is the man whom You chastise,
Hashem, and teach him from out of Your Torah"
(Tehillim 94:12). A person is fortunate if HaKodosh
Boruch Hu brings upon him yissurim but he remains
Since the midrash learns this sublime principle from
Avrohom Ovinu, we understand that he actually did withstand
that trial. Nonetheless, it seems that HaKodosh Boruch
Hu demanded from Avrohom Ovinu a higher level of
bitochon. He was expected to continue living in Eretz
Yisroel and not to immigrate to Egypt, and furthermore was
expected to have bitochon in Hashem and not endanger
his wife Soroh.
It is quite possible that Avrohom Ovinu thought that he
himself should behave according to the middoh of
bitochon, but was not allowed to do so because those
who were together with him had not achieved such a high
level. See the commentary of HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch
zt'l and how he explains the episode of the famine.
The Netziv in Ha'amek Dovor analyzes Avrohom Ovinu's
leaving Canaan and immigrating to Egypt differently. "There
was a famine in the land, and Avrom went down to Mitzrayim to
sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land." We
detect in this posuk an apparent repetition of the
fact of there being a famine: "There was a famine" and "for
the famine was severe."
The Netziv explains that when Avrohom Ovinu reached Canaan he
already knew that a famine was taking place there but he
still had valuable possessions with him to help him survive.
He sold them and managed to continue living in the Land. When
time passed and the famine intensified Avrohom decided to
fulfill the gemora's (Bovo Kammo 60b) advice,
"Go away from where a famine prevails." See the Maharsha who
writes that surely Avrohom only left Eretz Yisroel for Egypt
when he saw that the famine was totally devastating. If so,
the Divine trial of leaving Eretz Yisroel and the trial of
Soroh Imeinu lay in Avrohom remaining silent and not
complaining about the promise of, "I will bless you and make
your name great" (Bereishis 12:2) not coming true.
Some additional points should be examined: 1) Why did Avrohom
instruct Soroh to "Say, I pray you, you are my sister"
(ibid., 13)? He should have told her "Say, I pray you,
he is my brother," which answer she in fact had to give to
the people asking her who she was. 2) "He treated Avrom well
for her sake and he had sheep and oxen and he- asses and
menservants and maidservants and she-asses and camels"
(ibid., 16). Why does the posuk stop in the
middle of describing Avrohom's animals by enumerating his
having menservants and maidservants? 3) Why did Avrohom agree
to accept gifts from Pharaoh in Egypt and from Avimelech in
the land of Pelishtim, but to the King of Sedom he said, "I
have raised my hand to Hashem, the most high G- d, the
Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from
a thread even to a shoelace" (Bereishis 14:22-23)?
Perhaps we can explain that Avrohom was afraid that Soroh
would prefer endangering herself to lying openly when
questioned. He therefore told her that all she should do was
to show she agreed with his statement that she was his sister
and remain silent. The pesukim later show that this
explanation is true. Pharaoh only remarked to Avrohom and not
to Soroh, "Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?"
(ibid., 12:18). He did not complain that Soroh lied to
Pharaoh frequently granted gifts to Avrohom, and Avrohom did
not want to refrain from accepting them since by doing so he
would have endangered himself. The Torah above enumerates the
order, one after the other, in which Pharaoh in fact gave
Avrohom these gifts and therefore arranges them in the way it
Avrohom acted differently with Sedom. The people of Sedom
were reshoim and although after the war their
possessions halachically belonged to Avrohom Ovinu, since "if
someone saves something from the non-Jews and robbers it
becomes his own" (Bovo Kammo 114a), Avrohom did not
want those reshoim to be able to say they made him
rich. Moreover, he did not want to have any connection with
them at all, and therefore took nothing from the King of
Sedom. Avrohom also knew that the King of Sedom really did
not want to give him anything but felt forced to offer what
he did to Avrohom. Another reason for Avrohom to refuse
receiving gifts from the king of Sedom was that he knew the
victory over the four kings was a miracle. He did not want to
benefit from a miracle.
End of Part II
HaRav Yoel Stenitzky is the menahel ruchani of
Yeshivas Amal HaTorah. The article is based on a discourse
published in Bikkurim, a collection of Torah
To read Part I, click here.
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