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אברהם

R' S.R. Hirsch says that the word "Torah" comes from the root ho-ra'ah, or teaching. Ostensibly, the Torah is a book of laws. If so, why is so much - the entire Sefer B'reishis - spent on the history of the world?


Two explanations are found in the commentaries. One, to teach us the proper way to behave. The Mishna says derech eretz kadma la-Torah - proper behavior precedes Torah learning. We can learn a lot about how to behave from the descriptions of God's handiwork, and from the deeds of our forefathers. Second, Chazal say, maasei avot siman le-banim - the actions of our forefathers are models and prototypes of behavior for their descendants to follow.

Avraham (Abraham) was the first of the three pillars. His greatest strength was his attribute of chessed (lovingkindness). This is appropriate, as the verse states: olam chessed yibaneh - “The world was built upon kindness” (Psalms 89:3)

עשרה דורות מאדם ועד נח להודיע כמה ארך אפיים לפניו שכל הדורות היו מכעיסין לפניו עד שהביא עליהם את מי המבול עשרה דורות מנוח ועד אברהם להודיע כמה ארך אפיים לפניו שכל הדורות היו מכעיסין ובאין עד שבא אברהם אבינו וקיבל שכר כולם

(אבוֹת ה:ב)


There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to show how great was His patience, for every one of those generations provoked Him continually until he brought upon them the waters of the Flood . There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to show how great was His patience, for every one of those generations provoked Him continually until Abraham, our father, came and received the reward of them all.

(Avos 5:2)


The Talmud gives two reasons that Abraham is called "Avraham ha-ivri" - 1) he came from "the other side" of the Euphrates River and 2) he "stood on one side and the rest of the world stood on the other.

Avraham was born into a society of idol worship. At a very young age - one Midrash says that he was but 3 years old - he used his intellect to conclude, through observation and reasoning, that there must be a Creator Who sustains the world. That wasn't enough, though - he actively went out and proselytized, trying to bring as many people that he could come into contact with to the recognition of God as well.

The Midrash says that Terach (Avraham's father)'s business was the manufacture and sale of idols. One day he had to go away on a trip and left young Avraham in charge. When his father returned he found the store in shambles, with only the largest idol remaining standing, with an axe in his hand. "What happened?!". Avraham explained, "A woman brought a meal offfering. All the idols argued over which should get it; finally the biggest one took an axe and destroyed all the others". "That's impossible," his father said, "idols can't move, or do anything.." Avraham replied, "if that is so, how can you worship them?"

Avraham was arrested by the forces of the evil king, Nimrod, and jailed for 10 years. After that Nimrod gave him a choice: worship idols or be thrown into a fiery furnace. Avraham set the standard for future generations by allowing himself to be thrown into the fire rather than submitting. Many people gathered to watch the "heretic" be burned alive - but Hashem saved Avraham with open miracles [this is what the verse refers to when it says "I am Hashem who took you out of Ur Casdim" (Gen. 15:7)].

This was the first of the ten "trials" which Avraham was tested with - or, according to some, the first two - the recognition of God or the 10 years of jail being the first.



עשרה נסיונות נתנסה אברהם אבינו ועמד בכולם להודיע כמה חיבתו של אברהם אבינו

(אבוֹת ה:ג)

Asara nisyonot nitn'sa Avraham avinu ve-amad be-chulam; le-hodiyacha kama chibato shel Avraham avinu

With ten tests was Abraham, our father, tested and he stood steadfast in them all; [they were] to show how great was His love.


Among others that are listed by various commentators as part of the ten:

  • Leaving his ancestral home
  • Being forced to go to Egypt when there was a famine in the land of Cana'an
  • When Sarah was taken away by Pharaoh
  • When he was required to send Hagar away
  • Lot's capture and the war of the four kings
  • The bris bein ha-besarim covenant between the parts, when he was told that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years.
  • Circumcision, at the age of 99
  • When Sarah was taken away by Avimelech
  • When he was required to send his son Yishmael away
  • Akedas Yitzchak - the binding of Isaac


Ramban explains that these trials were not a way for God to evaluate Avraham - certainly Hashem knows a person's innermost character. Rather, they were vehicles for him to achieve greater and greater heights - to actualize his fear and love of God into concrete actions.

Many commentaries note that the word nisayon is related to nes or banner. In this sense, the purpose of the trials were to raise Avraham up to new levels, and to signal to the outside viewer those hidden qualities that lay beneath the surface. Sfas Emes relates to the meaning of nes as a miracle - just as God goes beyond the limitations of nature, these trials of faith called upon Avraham to go beyond his own natural limitations.

We are all tested in various ways in our lives. Chazal say that Hashem does not give us a nisayon that we are not able to withstand. May we merit the right attitude and mindset, to realize that all of our trials and tribulations are really for our own benefit, and follow the model of Avraham to go beyond our natural limitation and be raised up to ever greater heights.

Posted by joem on Nov 26, 2006 8:53 am

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