From the moment we are born, to the day that G-d calls us, we are tested. In essence, everything is a test, and once we absorb this, it will become easier to bear the many challenges and trials of life. These tests come in many shapes and forms — the way we relate to G-d, to our parents, our teachers, our peers, our neighbours, our co-workers, our colleagues, even to a clerk in a store, the waiter in a restaurant, or a fellow driver on the road, are all tests. These tests reflect the genuineness of our commitment, the depth of our faith and the measure of our character, and at the end of the day, we are marked “pass” or “fail.”
Avraham’s father was priest of idols, yet at the age of three he recognised Hashem, and spent the rest of his life in servitude of the One G-d. He was tested ten times, and we find one of those tests at the end of last week’s Parsha. Avraham was commanded by King Nimrod to bow before the idols, yet he refused and belittled Nimrod, stating that Hashem created the world. Nimrod threw Avraham into the fire, yet Avraham was miraculously saved. This episode in Avraham’s life is related to us via the Midrash; the Torah merely hints to this event by calling the place Ur Kasdim – the furnace of Kasdim.
Why is it that the Torah did not elaborate such an incredible event?
Furthermore, in this week’s Parsha we are told that Avraham is tested by Hashem to leave his birth place, going into great detail as to the exact test. Rashi learns from the words “Lech Lecha” that Hashem promised Avraham that it would be for his benefit to go to the land that He would show him. As the Pasuk itself says “I will make you into a great nation.” If Hashem had in fact promised that Avraham’s trip would not entail any loss to him but would be to his benefit, what was the challenge of the test? Surely the previous test, in which Avraham had to give up his life, was much more severe. If so, why did the Torah only hint the first episode, but elaborate on the test of leaving his homeland?
According to the Ramban, tests are for the benefit of the individual being tested. By passing these, one turns his potential into action, and elevates oneself to a higher spiritual level.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zts’l states that the big difference between these tests is that the first one, where he was tested for his life was in line with his intellectual beliefs, while the second test of leaving his homeland was emotional. It was easy for Avraham to defend Hashem and monotheism in Ur Kasdim, because it made complete sense on an intellectual level. On the other hand at the beginning of our Parsha, Avraham is being asked to do something that intellectually and logically he cannot understand. He is being asked to leave his old father and his home. This is an emotional test, and clearly harder for Avraham than the previous ones. Similarly we find that when Avraham was tested by Hashem clearly at the Akeida, it was again a test of emotion and went against his intellectual understanding. Avraham had been preaching against the practice of human sacrifices, and here he was, being commanded to sacrifice his own son. =The test was to see whether he would be able to overcome all emotion and intellect in the service of Hashem.
Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (Hafla) offers a further insight. Although Avraham was promised reward, nevertheless when he actually fulfilled HaShem’s will, he did so solely for the purpose of serving Hashem, and not for the reward. When the Pasuk tells us of Avraham’s fulfilment of HaShem’s command it says “Vayelech Avram Kaasher Diber Eilav Hashem.” Avraham’s journey was not made for his own benefit but rather to fulfill HaShem’s commandment. Avraham was tested at this time as to the way he would fulfil the command of Hashem.
We recite daily in Kriat Shma “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul (‘Nafshecha’)” (Devarim 6:5). Chazal tell us “with all your soul – even if He takes your soul” (Brachot 61b). This explanation is fitting for times when one is required to give up one’s life in an effort to sanctify HaShem’s Name. What about when a person does not need to give his life but can live? How then does he love Hashem “with all his soul (‘Nefesh’)”? The Rishonim (Rashi, Ramban, Sforno) interpret the Pasuk “Im Yesh Et NAFSHECHEM Likbor Et Meiti Milefanai (Bereishit 23:8), to mean “if it is truly YOUR WILL to bury my dead before me”. The “Nefesh” is a person’s will and desire. Loving Hashem “Bechol Nafshecha” implies with your entire will.
Avraham was the Father of our nation. Rav Dessler zts”l explains that everything he went through prepared the path for future generations. The fact that Avraham was able to give up his life for Hashem, prepared the way for all those Tsadikim in the future generations to die Bekidush Hashem.
Even though we are surrounded by tests daily, we are taught to serve and love Hashem Bechol Nafshechem. Our service needs to lie within changing our will to coincide with His. Nullifying the will of the powerful Yetser Harah, which tries daily to bring us down.
Let us take heed from our Father Avraham, let us serve Hashem with reverence, and love, and may Hashem uphold the blessing of Avraham – Veheyeh Beracha
I have done best I could at amending the explanation of R Moshe Feinstein, I suggest reading the original for clearer explanation as the difference of emotional vs intellect is very blurred in the above.