The Final Test From God
The Mishnah (Avos 5:3) says that our patriarch, Abraham, was handed ten major tests by God. Rabbeinu Yonah writes that the final test was an episode which transpired in this week’s Torah reading. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had died, and Abraham needed a suitable burial plot. The lot which he found had cost a handsome sum. This could have caused Abraham to question God, since God had promised Abraham that the Land of Israel would be his. Abraham could have expected to get a burial plot for free. The fact that he had to pay a hefty sum was a test to his faith in God. He was challenged to see if he would trust that this expense did not negate God’s promise to him to have the land. Abraham indeed passed the test and completed the series of tests, proving his loyalty to God.
The question which begs to be asked is, why is this test the “grand finale?” In fact, the Talmud says (Bava Basra 16a) that the Satan told God that he hasn’t found anyone as loyal as Abraham, who did not question God over having to purchase a burial plot for his wife, despite having been promised the land. Why is this the proof of the greatest loyalty to God? Relatively speaking, this seems to be a test of a more trivial nature. Abraham was tested with other tests which seem to consist of much greater challenge. He put his life in danger, and he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son, all for the sake of God. He was challenged with seemingly much greater tests. Why does this one surpass them all?
Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman (in Sha’arei Orah) offers the following explanation: This test came immediately after the test of the Akeidah (lit. binding), in which Abraham was tested to see if he would be willing to give up his son for the sake of God. When Abraham passed the test, God said to him, “Now I see that you have true fear of God, for you did not even withhold your special son from me.” Abraham could have easily been under the impression that his tests were now over. He just received the stamp of approval from God. There were no clues telling him that he was about to experience another test.
And the nature of this test fit completely into the course of nature. Here he was, under the stress of finding a proper burial place for his beloved wife who had passed away suddenly, facing an unexpected and extremely high expense to bury his wife. Being an unexpected test, compounded with having to cope with his personal, sudden grief, he could have been caught off-guard. Abraham could have understandably undergone a fleeting thought of, “Why is this happening to me? Didn’t God promise me this land?”
Yet, despite the emotional turmoil and the covert appearance of the test, Abraham stood firm in his loyalty to God, and did not for a moment doubt God’s integrity. He did not allow himself to entertain the notion that perhaps he was experiencing any injustice by God.
Acceptance Without Understanding
This is a concept we experience in our lives as well. There are times in life when we are faced with moral dilemmas, and we know the correct course of action we should take, albeit maybe difficult. We have the presence of mind to gear ourselves up to the challenge and overcome it. But in times of crisis, we are caught off guard, and our emotions cry out, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be! Why is this happening to me?!” But the fact is that this itself is also a test from God. God is testing us to see how we will react in times of difficulty. Will we complain and distrust God’s justice, or will we accept the fact that God knows better, even when we cannot understand why things are happening?
The Chasam Sofer’s son was once embroiled in a discussion with a non-believer about faith in God. In the course of their discussion, the Chasam Sofer’s son was challenged with a question he could not answer. He knew his father would know the answer, so he went to ask him the question. But the Chasam Sofer just ignored the question. The question was causing the son much distress, and he returned the following day to present the question again. Once again, the Chasam Sofer avoided the question.
The son became frustrated. The question was nagging at him and he was certain that his father could answer it. Finally, on the third day, the Chasam Sofer answered the question. When he got his answer, the son asked his father why he hadn’t answered him the first time. The Chasam Sofer answered, “I wanted you to learn that even when you have unanswered questions, you must continue to have pure faith.”
Trusting God Despite the Confusion
Pain, and success of evil behavior, often create challenges to trusting God. The key is to remember that the difficulty and confusion are designed to be a test. A test to see if we will trust God despite our emotional instinct to resist accepting that all is really fair. Being a loyal servant of God means having faith in God that everything is done with justice, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense to us. We don’t have to understand everything to have faith in God.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber firstname.lastname@example.org