Avrohom Ovinu was tested ten times. One of the tests was "Lech Lecho," the test of leaving his home. This test followed the test of not denying his faith in HaKodosh Boruch Hu when he faced death by fire in Ur Kasdim.
Avrohom Ovinu fought against idol worship until finally there was a confrontation with the corrupt King Nimrod. Chazal (Tanna Devei Eliyohu Zutah 25) recorded the historical showdown:
"Nimrod said to Avrohom, `Don't you know that I am the master of all creation, the sun and the moon, the stars and the planets — and people! I am the source of them all. And you, why did you destroy my edifices?'
"At that moment Hashem gave insight to Avrohom, and Avrohom said to Nimrod, `My master, the king. The way of the world is that since the day the world was created and until now, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Tomorrow, [you] command the sun to rise in the West and set in the East and then I will testify about you that you are the master of all creation. And if, as you said, you are the master of the world, then surely all that is hidden is revealed to you. If so, disclose to me what is in my heart and what I will do in the future.'
"At that moment the evil Nimrod rested his hand on his beard and wondered to himself. Avrohom said to him, `Don't ponder, for you are not the master of the world, rather you are the son of Cush. And if you were the master of the world why didn't you save your father from death! Rather, just like you could not save your father from dying, you too cannot be saved from death.'
"Immediately Nimrod called to Terach, his [Avrohom's] father, and said to him, `What shall be the punishment of Avrohom your son, who burned my idols? The only punishment is for him to be burned!'
"Nimrod seized Avrohom and put him in prison. He was taken out to be thrown into the fiery furnace. Avrohom was bound, tied, and placed on a stone. He was surrounded with wood from all four directions which was five arm's lengths to each side and the height of five arm's lengths . . . "
In the midst of these flames of death, Hashem came to Avrohom Ovinu's aid.
Following this commitment of faith and obedience, Hashem commanded Avrohom to leave his home (Bereishis 12:1), "Hashem said to Avrohom, `Go away from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I shall show you.' "
This is unusual, for the normal method of testing is a progressive process from easy to more difficult. Here it seems not that way, for Avrohom Ovinu seems to be tested at a milder level than before.
The mesiras nefesh of facing certain death by fire is a test on a grand scale. It is difficult for us to imagine a greater test than the inferno of Ur Kasdim. Nevertheless, Avrohom Ovinu was successful and withstood the trial, and was mekadesh Shem Shomayim. He publicly brought honor to Hashem's name in a place that was steeped in idol worship.
Afterwards came the command to leave his homeland. How do we understand what lies behind this test? It would seem that there is no purpose to it, if it was easier than what came before.
Above all, the essence of a test lies in its power to awaken in the spirit of an individual his potential for greatness and to bring it out into reality. The true measure of a test is not in the context in which it is presented, but rather in its potential to act upon our nature and change it.
It took tremendous resolve to choose to die in the flames of Ur Kasdim rather than acknowledge idol worship but, as supreme as it was, it was a distinct and independent trial. It was an event rather than a process.
In the sefer Even Shleimoh it is written in the name of the Vilna Gaon zt"l, "That the main purpose of a person's life is to always intensify his efforts to change his character, and if not — why live?"
What does the Gaon mean to teach us by declaring "why live"?
We mistakenly think that, while cultivating our middos is an important aspect of our lives, but if we are not successful at that we also have Torah, mitzvos, and chesed. The assertion that without a change in middos our lives are nothing at all, needs to be carefully considered and understood.
Moreover, this insight is so central and significant that it is that sefer's very first point. For the sefer opens with the statement, "The sum total of avodas Hashem is dependent on the rectification of middos."
The change we make in our character is the decisive factor upon which our lives revolve. Our true success in life is measured by the amount of change we can produce in ourselves!
It is known that the more we become accustomed to doing something, the easier it becomes. The act becomes automatic and it eventually becomes second nature. Then it is very hard to break such habits. Moreover, our G-d- given, inborn traits and disposition and also what we have learned early on in life, are both powerful factors in our personalities and forces behind our behaviors. Our life and our lifestyle are very difficult to change. Yet it can be done.
We can change ourselves, providing that the effort be tomid, continual and intensive with no let up, and with all one's might. This is the essence of "Lech Lecho."
HaKodosh Boruch Hu was telling Avrohom Ovinu to leave his country, his family and his father's house. To leave a homeland is not as hard as departing from one's relatives. Then, to separate not just from the family, but from one's own father! These are tests that proceed from the easier to the more difficult. The trial here is the test of radical change: divorce yourself from all that came before.
Avrohom Ovinu's test of Ur Kasdim was unique. To show that one is ready to sacrifice one's life al kiddush Hashem is an opportunity that is not granted to everyone. But that is not the only way to be tested and to prove our loyalty to Hashem. There is also the daily test of living according to Hashem's commandments, setting our own desires and concerns aside for the sake of a life devoted to serving Hashem. This was the test of "Lech Lecho." It was a test of change.
Each of us must face the fact that each day has its tests. Some occur regularly and others come up by surprise. The first test is to awaken on time for tefilloh. Then, to have the proper thoughts during the prayers. At every point in our daily life, there are unique tests — even without the added pressures of major decisions or crises.
In the sixth perek of the Sefer Hayoshor, which is attributed to Rabbeinu Tam zt"l, it is explained that from one moment to the next anything can happen. We must expect the worst and be prepared for it. This is because every event is designed to test our resolve to remain steadfast to Hashem.
The events and calamities which occur to people, whether they be good or bad — for example: entrapment, fame, fortune, captivity, financial loss, familial or personal illness, expulsion from one's country, imprisonment, or the passing of beloved ones — all these occurrences, and many more like them, tear people's hearts away from devotion to Hashem. The heart forgets and turns away from its Creator.
It is at times like these that the mind of the thinker is tested in order to strengthen him against human frailty. If one is strong and remains faithful, none of these events will be able to shake his devotion, just as strong winds are unable to uproot a large mountain and move it from its place. A strong mind and a deeply rooted faith will not waver in the face of such incidents.
A person must be extremely careful at such times and know that it was with this precondition that he made an unbreakable promise with his Creator and that his soul agreed to serve Hashem even on this condition. Therefore the vow must be fulfilled and the promise kept. One must prepare a strong heart to accept such tragedies and regard them properly when they come. They should be expected on any day, at any time, in any month.
One should say in his heart, "If mishaps do not come today, they will come tomorrow. If not tomorrow than after tomorrow." When one does this, his eyes and heart will expect them and when these tidings do come he will not be confused and forget his religious duties for he is prepared to accept what occurs.
These inevitable daily tests — and primarily our readiness to accept them properly when they come — are the way to transform our hearts and minds. This is what makes us into new individuals: righteous in thought, speech and deed. This is life and the reason we are alive.
Rabbeinu Tam zt"l continues,
"For this is what a tzaddik is, for he has considered and knows that this world is a place of trial. Therefore, his eyes and heart are aware of this at every moment and he will not be bewildered when they come and he will not be afraid. However, the one who fears [calamity] is one who trusts in this world and says, `Since no adversity will occur, my serenity will continue.' Therefore, when the opposite of what he thinks occurs, he is alarmed and loses his senses, his faith and his devotion. The sensible person needs to constantly guard himself and not be secure in any of the world's goodness, [even] for a minute!"
These are the thoughts and attitude of the tzaddik and it is all so basic and simple, for life is impossible any other way. This knowledge and preparedness make a person into a tzaddik. The tzaddik knows what to expect from this world, and how to respond to it.
So the Rabbeinu Tam zt"l concludes that the tzaddik bears all this in mind for "the ordeals are bound to come and through them there is success — so his devotion will endure."
This is a new insight into how we understand what a tzaddik is. Certainly, there are all his mitzvos. However the full measure of a tzaddik is not just the mitzvos that he does. Likewise, the rosho is not simply his evil deeds.
The essence of the tzaddik rests in his clear, unshakable knowledge that this world is a place of tribulation. Therefore, he is constantly prepared to face ordeals when they arise.
Miraculously, Avrohom was saved, alive and untouched by the fires of Ur Kasdim. Hashem first tested Avrohom Ovinu with death, and then with living life. The test of life is much greater in its magnitude of success — and also, in its chance of failure. Therefore only after Ur Kasdim came the test of change and that was without the help of miracles.
Avrohom Ovinu would be completely on his own and away from all he knew. HaKodosh Boruch Hu demanded that Avrohom now leave the stability and protection of his home, to wander amongst strangers in foreign lands - - and to grow and become a greater tzaddik because of it.
New situations would now unfold based on Avrohom Ovinu's decision to obey Hashem's command. This would provide new and greater opportunities for devotion.
The same is true for all of us. We all must seek out the situations that will help us realize our true potential, and when the inevitable ordeals of life are thrust upon us, we must rise to each occasion. That is our success.
Avrohom Ovinu's success was to lead the world out of the blindness of idol worship, primarily through his own personal example of chesed that is unmatched in all of history. Failure would even have been to be satisfied with his own past accomplishments and to remain with the familiar and habitual lifestyle of his home.
That would be failure because the result would have been an imperfection of character that would stifle the chance of Avrohom becoming Hashem's chosen vanguard to bring glory and honor to His Name for all generations.
In contrast was Lot, the nephew of Avrohom. He also left Ur Kasdim, although he was not commanded to do so. He followed Avrohom, which was a great act of loyalty to his uncle's belief in Hashem. Lot did not have to leave; he made up his own mind to do it. Common sense suggests that Lot is more commendable than Avrohom Ovinu.
It might seem that this great accomplishment of Lot should earn him a reward much greater than Avrohom's, for a person who desires to serve Hashem on his own is on a very high level. One who is commanded will be punished for disobedience. We might think that since fear is the motivation, therefore the reward will be much less.
The gemora in Kiddushin 31a teaches us the exact opposite. "Greater is the one who is commanded and does, than the one who is not commanded and does." Tosafos explains that the gemora means to say that the one who is commanded has more concern and worry over the prospect of failure than the one who is not commanded. Therefore, his reward is greater.
The reward is not simply for accomplishing the act, but rather from the depth of the responsibility that is felt in carrying it out. If a self-motivated individual fails, the loss is his own. However, one who is commanded cannot risk failure, for Hashem expects and demands success from him.
In the end, Lot did not turn out to become a tzaddik. There was a dispute between the shepherds of Avrohom and the shepherds of Lot. Lot separated from Avrohom and traveled "miKedem," from the East.
Rashi (Bereishis 13:11) explains, "He made himself travel away from He Who proceeded the world. He said, `I want neither Avrom nor his G-d.'" Lot took such a spiritual decline that he rejected Avrohom and his G-d!
Lot went along with Avrohom all that time, but he was not changed. Since he had a desire for riches, all it took was a dispute between shepherds to open the door to Sodom: a decadent, wealth-saturated city, whose corruption was so great that the only remedy was total destruction.
Although Lot originally had the initiative to follow Avrohom, he was not prepared for his true test: whether to remain a loyal talmid of Avrohom, or to follow his desire for riches. When the test came, Lot chose the road to Sodom.
Hashem did not reveal the destination of the command "Lech Lecho" to Avrohom Ovinu. Chazal say that this was to increase the reward for Avrohom with each footstep. Leaving his homeland without knowing where to go, made Avrohom great. The burden of not knowing where he would go added new potential to the spirit of our father Avrohom.
However Lot, his talmid, followed along but remained unchanged, for he was not burdened with the responsibility of fulfilling Hashem's command. Therefore when his test came, he had to fail. He simply followed his unchanged nature.
Life has been given to us in order that we be tested and grow because of this testing. We have agreed to this, even before we entered this world. May we always be successful in seeing clearly all the tests that await us and, with Hashem's help, may we be given the wisdom to respond properly and to grow from them all.