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24 Cheshvan 5764 - November 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Ten Tests of Avrohom Ovinu

by HaRav Yoel Stenitzky

Part I

"Avrohom Ovinu was tested with ten trials and withstood them all, to show the extent of our forefather Avrohom's love for Hashem" (Ovos 5:4, Ovos DeRebbi Nosson 33:2).

We find four different opinions among the Rishonim about which Divine tests the "ten trials" of Avrohom Ovinu include.

Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer arranges them as follows: 1) Ur Kasdim (Bereishis 16:7), 2) "Go you out of your country" (ibid., 12:1), 3) the famine in Eretz Yisroel (ibid., 12:10), 4) Soroh being taken by Pharaoh (ibid., 12:15), 5) the War of the Four Kings (ibid., 14:9), 6) Bris Bein HaBesorim (ibid., 15:18), 7) Hogor's being driven out of Avrohom's home (ibid., 21:14), 8) sending Yishmoel away from Avrohom's home (ibid., ibid.), 9) Bris Milah (ibid., 17:11), and 10) Akeidas Yitzchok (ibid., 22).

Rashi enumerates the tests of Avrohom's faith differently. The first, he says, was Avrohom's running away from Nimrod who sought to kill him. The second until the sixth trials are the same as the way Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer counts them. The seventh and eighth trials according to Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer--Hogor's being driven out of Avrohom's home and sending Yishmoel away--are regarded as one according to Rashi.

The Rambam adds two trials: 1) Avrohom marrying Hogor (ibid., 16:2), and 2) Soroh's being taken by Avimelech (ibid., 20:2), but he deletes the first trial of Ur Kasdim and also that of Bris Bein HaBesorim from the list.

Another opinion exists, that of Rabbenu Yonah, who adds the burial of Soroh in Me'oras Hamachpela and Soroh's being taken by Avimelech.

Let us summarize: 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.

The opinions differ whether the following five are included among the ten trials: 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).

Avrohom Ovinu--His Life and Deeds

Chazal explain to us, and we likewise understand from the pesukim, that Avrohom Ovinu was 58 years old when Noach was niftar. Since the dor haflogoh lived 340 years after the Mabul, and Noach lived until 350 years after the Mabul, we therefore understand that Avrohom Ovinu was 48 years old during the great events of the dor haflogoh.

"The whole earth was of one language and of one speech" (Bereishis 11:1). This posuk implies that at this period, two ideological doctrines prevailed in the world. One school of thought, that included Avrohom, Sheim, Eiver, and Noach, believed in HaKodosh Boruch Hu. The rest of the world differed.

The gemora (Nedorim 32a) teaches us that Avrohom Ovinu realized the existence of a Creator of the world when he was only three years old. Avrohom ridiculed the avodoh zora of his father Terach, and argued the subject with Nimrod who was the ruler of the world. As a result Nimrod tried to kill Avrohom and Avrohom fled from him.

During that era, the various types of evil were exceptionally powerful, and undoubtedly demonstrated their ability to accomplish astonishing things. Nonetheless, this power emanated from tumah. Avrohom fought against the proponents of these kochos hatumah and tried to instill belief in Hashem among mankind. Nimrod caught him and threw him into the blazing oven in Ur Kasdim, but Avrohom was miraculously saved by HaKodosh Boruch Hu. "He said to him, I am Hashem Who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it" (Bereishis 15:7). The Ramban explains, "I made a miracle for you in Ur Kasdim so I could give this land to you and your offspring." All of the commentaries except for the Rambam understand this to be one of Avrohom's trials.

Actually, we must understand how Avrohom could resolve to sacrifice himself for kedushas Hashem. Although Avrohom Ovinu fulfilled the whole Torah of his own free will even before it was given, and to avoid committing the three cardinal aveiros of the Torah one must be moseir nefesh, Avrohom was not yet actually obligated to observe the Torah. Not only, therefore, was he not required to be moseir nefesh for kiddush sheim Shomayim, he was a ben Noach who is prohibited from committing suicide: "Surely your blood of your lives will I require" (Bereishis 9:5), from which Chazal (Bovo Kammo 91b) expound that a person is forbidden to kill himself.

If Avrohom was not obligated to be moseir nefesh he should apparently have been forbidden to be moseir nefesh, since that would be considered as committing suicide.

Avrohom Ovinu teaches us a paramount principle in emunah. When a person is aware why he has been created and what his duty in this world is, he understands without any special command from HaKodosh Boruch Hu that he must be moseir nefesh for emunah.

Avrohom was not endangering his life for no reason at all, and therefore was not considered to be committing suicide. His reason was justified and so his act could not be included in the issur of being me'abeid atzmo loda'as. When Avrohom -- who had fully realized that a Creator made the whole world and him too -- saw people deviating from the proper way, he knew he must accept any consequence--even forfeiting his own life--to show that HaKodosh Boruch Hu exists. The same Power that created man gave him his duty in this world: to insure the world's arrival at perfection. And when Avrohom saw men attempting to destroy the perfection of the Creation, he knew he must sacrifice his life for this cause.

The Targum Onkelos (Bereishis 11:28) on the posuk, "Horon died in front of his father Terach in the land of his nativity, in Ur Kasdim," explains that when Nimrod threw Avrohom Ovinu into the blazing furnace because he refused to worship avodoh zora, Horon was undecided whose side he should be on, that of Nimrod or that of his brother Avrohom. But when everyone saw that the fire did not consume Avrohom, they said that surely Horon's kishuf saved Avrohom. Fire immediately fell from Heaven and burned Horon in Ur Kasdim instead of Avrohom. Horon was burned since he was not firm in his belief of Hashem. But Avrohom who sacrificed himself for avodas Hashem was saved.

The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodoh Zora, ch. 1) records the chain of events that brought the world to worship avodoh zora. He adds that after the miracle at Ur Kasdim, wherever Avrohom lived he taught the knowledge of the Creator and His greatness. It is also possible to suggest that since Avrohom lived in the dor haflogoh, when people proclaimed, "Let us make for us a name" (Bereishis 9:4) and their intent was evil, Avrohom instead adopted the positive side of, "Let us make for us a name." He tried to make the Name of HaKodosh Boruch Hu known throughout the world, so that everyone would be aware that Hashem is omnipotent and omnipresent.

Avrohom's attempt to disseminate consciousness of Hashem universally was a heroic act. At that time, Avrohom was one of the few people even aware of Hashem's Presence. Besides Avrohom only Sheim, Eiver, Peleg, and possibly a few other people were aware of Hashem. Avrohom was unique even among these few in that he protested publicly against avodoh zora and went out to teach others the way of Hashem. Sheim and Eiver would only teach those who came to them. They did not go around propagating the Name of HaKodosh Boruch Hu in the world.

We find this contrast pointed out in Chazal's statements about how Shmuel Hanovi was different from his sons. "His sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after unjust gain and took bribes and perverted justice" (I Shmuel 8:3). The gemora (Shabbos 56a) explains that the sin of Shmuel's sons mentioned in the posuk was not, choliloh, out-and-out taking bribes and perverting justice. Instead it refers to their not acting like their father Shmuel. Shmuel would go from place to place to teach Torah but his sons would wait until people came to them. That was their cheit.

"R' Chiya said to R' Chanina: `I caused the Torah not to be forgotten from Yisroel. I planted flax, made nets, and trapped deer. On their skins I wrote the Chumash and the six Orders of the Mishnah, and taught every talmid a different Order. Each talmid taught the others what he had learned, and in that way Torah increased within Yisroel.' R' Yehuda said: `What R' Chiya did was tremendously great! It is even greater than what Rebbe did' (Kesuvos 103b)." We see from the gemora that it is the Creator's will that anyone who can, who has the capability to do so, should influence others.

End of Part I

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.

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