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A test of your own medicine

Written by Rabbi Daniel Leeman

Our forefather Avraham was instructed to “Go for yourself” – to leave his family and hometown and head towards the land of Israel where he was to be blessed with offspring, fame, fortune and success. The interesting language “go FOR YOURSELF” is explained to be indicating that Avraham’s journey would beneficial to him and for his own good [1]. But in light of his promised blessings and success it seems superfluous to mention this?

Furthermore, we have been taught that Avraham’s journey was a test for him [2]. But if it was ‘for his own good and his own benefit’, where was the aspect of challenge for him?

One morning, a few months ago, I awoke early in the morning to my daily routine, wondering what the day held in store for me. To get to my first stop required a five minute walk from my house. I know the journey like the back of my hand and I often use the opportunity to think about something constructive. But that morning, even before I left, I began thinking about was how boring and plain my journey was. It would have been so welcome to see something different and exciting for a change. Just then I saw a cat in the garden – hardly what I had in mind!

And so I began my journey with the same thoughts… I walked down the stairs where I had recently seen a lizard a few times, but today even the lizard did not show his face today… hey! what was that in the distance? Yes it was a chazir-bar (wild-pig) – the size of a cow! For the first time in the year and a half that I had made that same journey, I had never seen the likes (or dislikes!) of them before. (Actually as I write this, a few weeks after it happened, providence further dictated that just yesterday I saw them again on my early morning journey, albeit from a distance.) I stopped in my tracks – I have heard that they could be dangerous. He spotted me. He was just across the street. I wanted to run away but I was frozen in my place (even though it was the middle of the summer!). I didn’t know what to do. Why was I looking for something different and exciting; what was wrong with instead seeing a lizard once in a while, or a cat? Then suddenly it began sprinting away – towards the forest. Following his lead were about twenty baby (each the size of a dog) chazirei bar.
A little shaken from the ordeal, I had experienced enough ‘excitement’ for one day and continued with my journey.

On my way home I reflected on how much I appreciated the regular, boring journey. At that very moment I spotted two king-size ants. Yes I would be more than content with such exciting sights in the future!

We do not ask for challenges in life. In fact, on the contrary, we pray day and night that we are not brought to a test, lest we stumble [3]. We should never be so sure of ourselves: even the greatest of the great can stumble [4].

Avraham’s test would indeed be profitable for him: he would become prosperous and be blessed. It goes without saying that his journey would be good and beneficial for him (not like mine!). Perhaps then, ‘for his good and for his benefit’ is not referring to what Avraham stood to profit from his test, but rather it is coming to define what a Divine test is all about. Tests and challenges are only for our own good and benefit when we do not initiate them. Only a Divinely initiated test is for our own good and our own benefit.

Perhaps this was the point of challenge for Avraham: accepting his Divine test as it was – good and beneficial for him – without seeking to further prove himself… or tasting too much ‘excitement’ along the way!

Have a tasteful (but testless) Shabbos,


Additional sources:
[1] Bereishis 12:1, 2 and Rashi
[2] Bartenura, Pirkei Avos 5:3
[3] See also Brachos 60b
[4] Sanhedrin 107a

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