Vayeira 5779

Parshas Vayeira

The G-d of Our Father, Avraham – and [therefore] our G-d

This week’s parsha concludes with Avraham Avinu undergoing his tenth and final nisayon (test). The Medrash [1] on this week’s parsha (We already dissused this Medrash in last week’s Dvar Torah) states in the name of Rav Levi, “There are two times that לך לך – go for ‘yourself’, going is written in the Torah and we do not know which Hashem favors more – the first or the second.”

The first “לך לך” is the first pasuk of last week’s parsha [2], “לך לך מארציך וכו – go for yourself out of your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

The second “לך לך” is in this week’s parsha by the command of the Akeida (the Binding of Yitzchak), where Avraham is told [3],“ולך לך אל ארץ המוריה – and go for yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” Rav Levi concludes that because it says, “to the Land of Moriah,” we can deduce that the Akeida was a greater test than the test of Avraham leaving his homeland and thus the second instance of “Lech Lecha”is “more cherished by Hashem.”

This Medrash is quite challenging. Chazal [4] tell us that Avraham withstood ten trials, two of which were (1) to depart from his home in Haran for a strange land and (2) the command to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah. The Medrash seems to be evaluating which of these two tests was more compelling. What can we learn from this query of the Medrash? Obviously, each of these where very difficult nisyonos (tests) to have undergone. What is the significance in the relative ranking of these tests in order of arduousness? We must also understand Rav Levi’s conclusion about the significance of the words “to the Land of Moriah.” How is this proof that the last test was greater?

In Hashem’s commandment of the Akeida, He told Avraham, [5] “קח נא את בנך את יחידך אשר אהבת את יצחק – please take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak.” Rashi quotes the Gemara [6] that Reb Shimon the son of Abba commented on the term used – ‘nah’ (please). “This,” he said, “is analogous to a king who had to fight many battles to defend his empire. He had a great warrior leading all of his battles who had always been successful in his military endeavors. A new fierce war was eminent. The king summoned his trusted warrior and beseeched him,‘Please do me a personal favor; make sure to prevail in this war as in the past, lest people will say that the first battles meant nothing. If you cannot win this last war for me, my whole reputation as well as yours will be tainted because people will say that the previous victories were inconsequential.”

Likewise, Hashem pleaded with Avraham, “I have tested you many times and you have always prevailed, but I need you be steadfast just once more so that it will not be said that the first tests were insignificant.”

Reb Shimon bar Abba’s allegory needs to be illuminated. Let us assume for a moment that Avraham were to have been unable to bring himself to sacrifice Yitzchak as Hashem commanded. How can it be suggested that after Avraham successfully passed the first nine tests, that all previous tests were inconsequential simply because he exhibited human frailty in his final trial?

The Ramban [7] explains the concept of a nisayon:

The matter of ‘trial,’ in my opinion, is as follows: Since a man has complete freedom of choice whether or not to perform a certain act, those acts are deemed to be a ‘trial’ from the perspective of one who is being put to the test. However, it is Hashem, the omniscient who tries the person, knowing full well that the righteous person will withstand the ordeal. Hashem commands the one being tested in order to actualize his potential so that he may be rewarded, not merely for espousing good intentions, but for the actual completion of the deed.

Know further, that Hashem tries the righteous. For knowing that the righteous will do His will, He desires to make them even more upright, and so He commands him to undertake a test, but He does not try the wicked who would not obey. Thus, all trials in the Torah are for the ultimate benefit of the one being tested.

We may conclude from the Ramban’s words that the point of testing a person is not for Hashem to see if he will withstand the tests. Hashem knows this, since Hashem knows everything. Rather the nisayon is for the good of the person – to reward and to elevate the person spiritually. The Ramban understood that the term nisayon is from the same root word as the Hebrew term “neis” (to raise, to lift up). A nisayon is a way of becoming elevated to achieve total devotion to Hashem. Likewise we might render the translation of the pasuk as [8]: “והאלקים נסה את אברהם – Hashem ‘lifted up’ Avraham.” Hashem gives nisyonos (tests) only to those He knows can withstand them. Hashem does not test someone who cannot handle the trial. The purpose of a nisayon is to elevate the righteous person in fulfillment of his great destiny.

There is a famous phrase [9], “ברא כרעיה דאבוה – a son is an extension of his father” his fathers “knees” as it were. Its literal meaning is, in reference to inheritance, that a son moves into his father’s place as to legacy. Metaphorically it can be explained that the knees of a person can make a person taller when they are outstretched, and when they are bent the person seems shorter. So too, with the child of a man. How the child behaves helps form the opinion others have of their parents. When they are upright people, their parents are perceived to have been so as well, and so too, heaven forbid when they are not well behaved, it is assumed that their parents were no better.

The pasuk earlier in the parsha tells us [10], “כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה’ לעשות צדקה ומשפט – for I have cherished him, because he commands his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of Hashem by doing charity and justice.” Rashi explains that this means that Hashem loves Avraham because he commands his sons and future offspring to go in Hashem’s ways.

Avraham converted many people to the ways of Torah. Chazal [11] teaches us that Avraham and Sarah would convert people to the ways of Hashem. What happened with all of these converts? We do not find any other historical reference of them nor of their descendants. Seemingly they or and their descendants eventually reverted to their erroneous ways and they were thus disregarded henceforth.

The most significant way a person can impress his beliefs on others is to publicly announce those beliefs and to act upon them in full view of others with total acceptance of the consequences of one’s actions. Avraham Avinu was not only about personal perfection. Avraham Avinu was tasked with creating an everlasting legacy that he passed on to his progeny. Avraham Avinu’s purpose was not merely to create a “religion” but to perpetuate it in his offspring. If he would have been unsuccessful in conveying the message and meaning of his life to his own household, future generations would have been skeptical of his entire legacy. Monotheism would have been destined to the trash heap of history to which the pagan deities of his age are relegated.

The nisayon of the Akeida was the only test that Hashem gave to Avraham that had his son Yitzchak’s involvement. Had Avraham not withstood the test of the Akeida, Yitzchak would not have seen his father withstanding a test, and would thus be somewhat lacking in his devotion of service towards Hashem. It would have ultimately led to the devaluation of all of his previous personal sacrifices and successes. Future generations would question the veracity and the validity of all of his previous tests if not for this specific test of the Akeida that Yitzchak personally witnessed and in which he participated. Their descendants would eventually come to consider the first nine tests insignificant. In time, the faith Avraham disseminated would dwindle away and be forgotten.

This can help us understand the Medrash with which we began. The Medrash is making this very point. We do not know which “לך לך” was superior. This is the same logic as the Gemara – that each of these tests was an act of great sacrifice, without regard to the other. The Medrash, however, seems to assume that the two are comparable in some ways; hence the similar use of the expression, לך לך. The implication is that the tests were somewhat intertwined, therefore posing the question of which one was of greater value.

How are these trials to be considered linked? The Medrash reaches the conclusion that the Akeidah was greater from the words “go to the Land of Moriah.” How does the Medrash deduce from these words that this trial was more momentous? The Medrash later tells us that there actually is no land known as the “Land of Moriah.” They therefore understand the name Moriah as homiletic. It comes to teach us that this is the place from which “hora’ah” (Torah instruction) comes. Indeed, the Hebrew word “Morah” means a teacher. The Medrash is saying that Hashem was telling Avraham that this distinct test is the Morah, the penultimate teacher, for the future of the Jewish nation without Judaism would be lacking a solid foundation. It is therefore understandable that this test stands out as the proof that all the previous tests had been just as significant.

This thesis relates to the way we ourselves carry on our tradition. We must regard Judaism as a legacy with which we are charged to perpetuate to the end of time. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If we are strong in our convictions and adherence to Torah and mitzvos, it reflects our confidence in the sincerity of the devotion of our past generations and will have a positive effect on future ones.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Dovid Sochet

[1] Bereishes Rabbah 55:7
[2] Bereishes 12:1
[3] Bereishes 22:2
[4] See Tractate Avos 5:3
[5] Bereishes 22:2
[6] Tractate Sanhedrin 89B
[7] Rabbi Moses ben Nachman 1194–1270
[8] Bereishes 22:1
[9] See Yonas Eilam chapter 82
[10] Bereishes 18:19
[11] See Bereishes Rabbah 39:14