Tests and Trials
Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )
Many of us face challenges in life at some point or another. Why do we need to experience such hard times?
The first Jew to experience continued struggles and challenges in his life was our forefather, Abraham. In fact, the Mishna1 teaches us that Abraham endured ten specific challenges.
Normally when it comes to test taking, the test is the method by which to determine the test taker’s level of knowledge, ability or expertise. The results of the test are needed as they dictate the outcome for the test taker, determining whether one is fit for a school, team or job. God, however, knows everything, our abilities and our setbacks, and therefore it would seem unnecessary for Him to test us in this way. If the purpose of tests is to determine one’s capabilities or commitment, it seems unnecessary for God to test his people. Why does He send us such tests? Why are we given so many challenges if not to determine our abilities?
The answer is in that same Mishna. “With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all, in order to make known how great the love of Abraham is.”2
Maimonides3 gives a basic understanding of this Mishna. He states that Abraham was tested so that his deep love and commitment towards God would be glaringly obvious to all. God knew that Abraham would overcome the challenges presented to him, well aware of his unfaltering belief in Him. The object of the tests was to show the world how truly special Abraham was. In this way Abraham stood as the ultimate role model and teacher for mankind as a person of true faith, belief and commitment to a spiritual life.
The Meiri however, has another way of interpreting the same Mishna. The tests were not to show the world Abraham’s love of God, rather the tests were an indicator of God's great love towards Abraham! If you love someone, why would you continuously present him with challenges?
Imagine a young intern who is new to a firm. He is dedicated and hardworking and the CEO of the company takes notice. The CEO challenges his young employee with multiple tasks that seem completely out of his skill set and definitely out of his comfort zone. This pattern continues time and time again. The intern may find himself resentful of his boss, or feel worthless and floundering to keep up with unfamiliar tasks. Eventually though, he realizes that the CEO sees his potential and is challenging him out of love, giving him continuous opportunities to grow within the firm. In essence, the challenges are the quintessential element that leads to his ultimate success.
When you truly love someone, you don’t just want to shower them with gifts and pave for them the easy path. No one ever grows while staying in their comfort zone. If one truly loves his children, he will challenge them to grow, to thrive and set higher goals. God presents each one of his beloved children with challenges in their lives. May the realization that these tests are the ultimate sign of love, give us the strength to step into those challenges and reach our true potential.
- Pirkei Avot (5,3)
- The Guide for the Perplexed (3, 24)