The lobster is a soft mushy animal that lives inside a solid shell. That rigid shell doesn’t expand. So how does the lobster grow? As the lobster grows it feels under pressure of its shell. It goes under a rock to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off its shell and produces another bigger one. Eventually that shell becomes uncomfortable and again it goes through the same process.
The stimulus for the lobster to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. Perhaps if lobsters had a doctor they would never grow; as soon as they felt uncomfortable they would go to the doctor and get a quick cure.
Times of stress are also signals for growth. A tough ride shouldn’t be viewed as adversity, rather as an opportunity to renew, revitalise and strengthen oneself.
The Torah goes into great detail regarding the fine nuances of the lives of our patriarchs and matriarchs, for it is written, Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’Banim – Whatever happened to the forefathers, is a sign for the children. Therefore, by studying their lives, we can better appreciate the meaning of our own lives.
Our father Avraham was challenged with ten tests, all of which he passed with great distinction (Pirkei Avot 5:4). Rabbi Dessler Z’l explains that all of the trials and tribulations of future generations are traceable to those ten tests. If, through our long and painful history we have remained faithful to G-d and never lost sight of our calling, it is because Avraham created the character traits that enabled us to prevail.
But tests are hard, so what is the real purpose of a divinely ordained test?
A student is tested in school so that the teacher can find out how much the student knows. The omniscient G-d, by contrast, is already aware of a person’s capacity before the test. The purpose of a divine test, therefore, cannot be to reveal any new information to G-d.
The Hebrew word Nisah,”tested,” is derived from the word Nase, which means flag. The Midrash explains that just as a flag flies high above and identifies an army or ship, so too a test is meant to elevate and reveal the innate potential of the person being tested.
A test is always a choice at the upper limit of a person’s capacity. Passing the test actually changes the person. Potential becomes actualized. A rose bud contains all the petals of the opened rose, but a rose in full bloom is far more beautiful than a bud.
The Mishna in Yuma (5:3) relates how the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur would sprinkle blood on the Mizbeach (altar). He would sprinkle once upwards and seven times downwards. Each time he would count. He started with the first one above and counted “one”, then made the second sprinkle which was downwards and said, “one and one”. He continued with the third sprinkle and said, “one and two”, followed by, “one and three” etc. Our sages are perplexed why at each count the Kohen Gadol had to continue to say “one and”. Why didn’t he just say number two three etc.?
The Yismach Moshe explains that the first sprinkling the Kohen Gadol carried out would be infused with emotion. But as with everything in this world, the more action we perform the more we lose the original inspiration. The Kohen Gadol wanted to keep that original inspiration with him and so he constantly reminded himself of the first sprinkling throughout the process.
It is the initial test that carries us through all the other trials and tribulations. We sap energy from our tests and use them to grow. Sometimes we fall, but our approach must be based on understanding that Hashem runs the show and only tests those that can withstand and be strengthened from these tests.
When man was created, the Torah relates that the Almighty said, “Let us make Adam (man) in our image and our likeness” (Bereishit 1:26). The commentators explain that G-d wanted to include His heavenly tribunal of angels in the decision to make man. Even though He did not need to do so, He wanted to teach us to always include others when making a decision , even if they are less worthy than us.
I once heard an amazing idea on this. The Pasuk can be read in a different light. G-d at the outset was teaching us that He will have an input in our lives. He will test us, and it is up to us to withstand this and build ourselves. Both of us are partners in man’s creation. G-d says to us – let us make man.
Join Me says G-d in making you into who you can be. Together we will form the real person in you.
Avraham was tested ten times to bring out different facets of his potential. According to the Rambam the first test that the Torah mentions is when G-d instructed Avraham and said to him (Bereishit 12:1): “Go for yourself, from your land, your birthplace, and from your father’s house.” Avraham was comfortable where he was. He had built up a fantastic name for himself, people knew him and it would be difficult to leave the country and live in an unknown land. Nevertheless he went forth. Through passing this test he was able to build an even greater family, bearing children in the land of Israel.
Avraham’s tenth and final test is also introduced with the words “Go for yourself”. He was told to sacrifice his beloved son Yitschak. Ten tough tests culminating in the ultimate challenge; being ready to accept that all that you have been blessed with and worked hard for should ultimately belong to G-d. He withstood the test, became our patriarch and gained a nation.
Until today we reap the rewards of his actions. We tap in to his stamina, eagerness and selflessness in the service of G-d. It was through him “going for himself” that he was able to realise himself and create the future Jewish people.
We are all tested on our own level, but this week when we read the Parasha and take pride in our ancestor’s strength of character let us apply it to our own lives. We can pass any test that G-d gives us, it is for our good, and we will only grow from it. I never thought I would say this, but next time you get tested, just remember the lobster!