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The Ten Tests of Our Patriarch Abraham: Lessons Learned

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Goldman
May 7, 2009 - י"ד אייר ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Reaching Out

Last week I wrote about the world’s first outreach professional (who was also the first Jew), our Patriarch Abraham along with his wife, our Matriarch Sarah. I touched upon the three life-concepts which they exemplified, Kindness, Faith and their Passion for Truth. We explored ways to integrate these traits into our everyday lives in an effort to bolster our friendship and relationships with our fellow Jewish brethren.

This week I’d like to write about the Ten Tests of Our Patriarch Abraham.’ The lessons we can learn along with the implications for our everyday lives. I hope you find it meaningful!

  • We often find ourselves in difficult situations and amid uncomfortable circumstances. At such times we often feel at a loss and aimlessly seek guidance from our leaders and mentors. However, it’s of utmost importance that we look behind the trial to uncover the hidden message and turn to Hashem in prayer asking that we merit his divine inspiration and assistance.

In Sefer Bereishis – the book of Genesis – the Torah relates in great detail the famed ten tests that Abraham faced and how he succeeded in overcoming them all. As we know, the Torah is not – G-d forbid – merely a subject of study, but rather a book of life. ‘Toras Chaim – a way of life’ is the name ascribed to the holy Torah. I’ll briefly explain why that is so and what its’ significance is.

In high school, students spend much time – as well as energy, pun intended – learning all about biology, mathematics and world history. These subjects unrelated to their human intelligence – or lack thereof -can be quite taxing and detailed. After all, these subjects are vast and quite intricate. However, no matter how successful a student is scholastically and regardless of their passion for the subject matter, do they ever adopt mathematics or biology as a way of life?

Yes, they may choose to enter that particular field as a means of earning a profession. They may even decide to spend many years in university pursuing a doctorate or PhD. Yet, while we have seen a resurgence in the number of people calling themselves Vegans or Vegetarians, we – to date – have not seen anyone whose practical life revolves around Math or Biology. It may be important to them, respectfully so, but do they live and breathe the subject matter?

When we contrast these ’subjects’ with the holy Torah, L’havdil, there exists a stark difference.

The Torah clearly delineates to us – the Jewish people – the history of our nation and the story which serves as living testament to our firm tenacity as well as a guiding light for our future.

Thus, when the Torah lays out the ten tests – there are important messages we must be attuned to. Let us begin.

The Ten Tests of Abraham: Lessons Learned

1) Abraham was in hiding underground for thirteen years from King Nimrod who wanted him killed for refusing to bow down to the idol.

  • In modern day life, we often find ourselves in a corner. Perhaps, we are outspoken in our religious beliefs. However, as we learn from the first of the ten tests, we often must make sacrifices for our beliefs. We must not do so reluctantly, but be proud and follow through with resolve and the utmost of our focus.

2) Abraham was thrown into the burning pit of fire only to miraculously escape harm.

  • As stated in the Shema prayer, we are commanded to worship Hashem “…with all of our heart, with all of our soul (or life) and with all our resources.”Abraham did just that by putting his life on the line for the sake of his ideals. Looking back to the Shoah, we see no better example than the selfless sacrifices our brethren made and the stories battered survivors lived to tell. They gave up their lives in sanctification of the Divine name earning infinite reward in the World to Come. Furthermore, it serves as example to us – their descendants – and inspires us to face down the odds.

3) Hashem commanded Abraham in Parshas Lech Lecha to leave his family and homeland for a foreign land – Canaan.

  • Throughout our nation’s history, we have been bitterly oppressed and subjected to constant torture. Time and time again, we have been uprooted from our land be it for political or anti-Semitic reasons. However, from Abraham we see that no matter what happens we must always resolve to move on and move forward rebuilding anew and planting the seeds for a better future.

4) Upon his arrival in Canaan, Abraham was forced to flee to escape the mighty famine.

  • On a similar note, we often face extensive periods of turmoil be it financial or spiritual. We face crisis after crisis and wish we could just put an end to it all. Abraham, having relocated from his native homeland sought much deserved peace and tranquility only to be caught amid famine. Faced with yet another challenge, Abraham stood tall and passed once again beginning anew in a foreign land.

5) When he traveled down to Egypt along with his wife Sarah, she was taken captive by Pharaoh’s court.

  • As he entered the Land of Egypt, Sarah was taken captive by Pharaoh’s officers. Facing the pending ultimate injustice, Abraham did not lose hope or give up. He placed his faith and trust in the One Above and Sarah was saved. Many times things seem hopeless and we feel that there is no way out. We must realize that through thick and thin, Hashem is always there to guide us through turbulent times with his divine countenance and shelter.

6) In the battle of the ‘Four Kings vs. Five Kings’ Lot was taken captive forcing Abraham to wage battle to secure his safe return.

  • We often make sacrifices for our family. At times it comes at a cost. However, we must realize its purpose and significance – for a common and higher good. Abraham put himself out for the sake of Lot because it was important to him and it mattered. Family first.

7) Hashem informed Abraham that his descendants would suffer under four ruling monarchies.

  • Bad news is not something we look forward to, nor appreciate. Nevertheless, there is a silver lining beneath it all as well as an important message that we must be stay attuned to. Hashem often sends us messages disguised in various fashions. It’s our job to ‘check our mail’.

8) At the late age of ninety-nine, he was commanded to circumcise himself along with his son.

  • As we age, we often seek peace and tranquility. We wish to spend our golden years free from stress and calamity. Yet, as we see from this test, challenges often crop up when we least expect them and would want to deal with them. Abraham succeeded once again and despite the clear hardship taught us the importance of self-sacrifice and what it means to do a Mitzvah even when it involves pain.

9) Seeing the negative influence it was having on Isaac, Abraham was commanded to drive away his concubine Hagar and is son Yishmael at his wife Sarah’s insistence.

  • Many times families face differences of opinion when dealing with an issue and are unsure what to do. However, so long as we focus on the ultimate goal we will be able to reach effective, balanced and long-term solutions to dilemmas and problems we face.

10) Making the ultimate self-sacrifice, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac on the Altar as an offering to Hashem. (His wife Sarah passed away upon hearing the news that he had been supposedly sacrificed though in reality he hadn’t been.)

  • What a greater sacrifice for a parent then to sacrifice his own child! Abraham’s courage and devotion set the bar and serves as testament to the fact that sometimes we must place everything in the hand of Hashem and hope for the best. We will not always know what to do but must realize that everything has divine reason and is divinely ordained. It’s our job to internalize that and stay focused letting Hashem run the world.

Thus, the ‘Ten Tests of Abraham” are but a yardstick by which we can power through our own challenges by drawing parallels from the trials Abraham faced. Each of these tests, contain powerful lessons and a message that has meaning to the everyday scenarios that we face. It’s incumbent upon us to look to the Torah in search of guidance that will help weather the storm and ensure that we remain firm and afoot.

Abraham passed test after test by placing his faith and trust in the one Above and realizing that there was a purpose and divine reason he was being tested. It wasn’t a mere coincidence but a mission from Hashem. Harnessing his strength and mustering up his courage, he charted the course of our nation’s history and merited the ultimate blessing.

Our Patriarch Abraham is our role model of what it means to be tested. Not once, twice but ten successive times he faced uphill challenges. Yet, he moved forward and he moved on thus at the same time bringing out the best within him and maximizing his potential.

So, as challenges are part of our lives – not stumbling, but building blocks – let us look at our Patriarch Abraham and take example. Step by step, one challenge at a time we will nurture our souls, perfect our character and become closer to Hashem.

As the old saying goes, “For every door of opportunity that closes, another one opens.”

Next time we face a challenge, let’s realize the opportunity that lurks on the other side. We’ll ‘reach out’ for it and be amazed succeed in reaching it.

Outreach is a challenge both for the person who extends the effort as well as to the person whom is being touched. Yet, if we realize the importance of what we’re doing and its significance, we’ll be better off and merit success. The rewards are simply too great to pass over.

Next week: ‘Like Hashem Commanded Moshe’: Crossing Our T’s and Dotting Our I’s


Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Parshas Lech Lecha

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