This week I was thinking about Avraham Avinu’s 10 tests. These were incredible obstacles that he had to hurdle. Steep peaks that needed to be scaled.
In Pirkei Avos (5,3) Avraham is praised for conquering 10 tests, however, the Mishnah does not delineate what the tests actually were.
Fortunately, the Rambam and others inform us what each test was.
#1 – Leave your homeland for an unspecified place.
#2 – The famine in Canaan immediately upon his arrival.
#3 – The abduction of Sarah by Pharaoh, King of Egypt.
#4 – Battling the four kings.
#5 – Having to take Haggar as a wife.
#6 – Circumcision at the advanced age of 99.
#7 – Avimelach, King of Grar, kidnapping Sarah.
#8 – Expelling Haggar from his home.
#9 – Expelling Yishmael from his home.
#10 – Akeidas Yitzchak (The Binding of Yitzchak).
A blaring question screams out at us.
To qualify as a test, the challenge must be a choice or a decision. Imagine walking down a path which splits off in two directions. In such a case, you have a choice to make – will you choose the left, or the right? A conscious decision is called for. After recognizing that a choice of action must be taken, then deliberating the pros and cons of each, it’s up to you to take the plunge and accept the consequences of your decision.
Now, let’s take another look at Avraham’s 10 tests. Which of them qualify as true tests?
Numbers 1,4,5,6,8,9,10 certainly are conscious choices that Avraham made. He alone made these decisions, and he alone would have to live with their consequences.
However, #2 was a famine that just happened. There was nothing at all for Avraham to choose. Likewise, numbers 3 and 7 were incidents that happened TO him, not BY him. Again, there was nothing for Avraham to do, neither to anticipate nor to predict, to what happened to him.
The blaring question is, why were these three considered tests?
Apparently, a test is much more than being faced with a choice. A test includes being hit with a situation or a challenge that cannot be foreseen. An overwhelming and crippling fork in the road that cannot be avoided.
And the test is, how will you react psychologically and emotionally? How will you live your life in acceptance of this new reality that was forced upon you? How much fortitude do you have, deep inside, to face up to the next challenge that confronts you? Will you be crushed or strengthened? Crippled or invigorated?
And maybe, just maybe, that is the greatest challenge of all!