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1 Kislev 5764 - November 26, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Ten Tests of Avrohom Ovinu

by HaRav Yoel Stenitzky

Part II

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 Rambam).

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 silent.

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 him.

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 does.

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 essays.

To read Part I, click here.

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