Ethics Now & Then 77 – Avot 5:4

Pirkei Avot 5:4  

Our forefather Abraham was tested with ten trials, and he withstood them all – to show the degree of our forefather Abraham’s love for God.

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Our forefather Abraham was tested with ten trials, and he withstood them all – to show the degree of our forefather Abraham’s love for God.

We are told, “The Lord tests the righteous; but the wicked and the one that loves violence, His soul does hate” (Psalm 11:5). The prophet Isaiah beautifully describes, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand” (64:8)   A potter working with clay and pots can tell immediately if a piece he is working with has a crack or an obvious defect. Then, there is no need to test it. One tap and it would break. If a pot looks sound, he taps it in various places and if it “rings true” he knows it is free of defects. Irving Bunim comments: “By analogy, if Heaven subjects someone to a test, it indicates that the person has already achieved much: he appears to be whole, morally strong.”* Also, apparently, a potter’s stronger tapping serves to make the vessel stronger and more resilient.

The strongest and greatest test that Abraham faced was the command, as he understood it, to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac. Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, writes in his commentary on Genesis 22:1, “SInce a man always has freedom of choice – if he wishes to act he acts; if not, he does not – for him it is a test. But the Blessed One who proves [tests] him, merely commands him in order to bring into the realm of action what is now only a potential within him, so that he may well be rewarded for a good deed rather than good intentions… Hence, all tests in Scripture are for the benefit of the person tried.” ** Our Father and Creator knows the potential He has placed in each of us and He does not test us beyond our strength nor burden us with more than we can bear.

It is worthy of note that twice in this verse Abraham is referred to as our ‘father.’ Historically, as the first Hebrew, he became the father of the family who would become the twelve tribes of Israel, those who would be appointed as God’s am segullah – treasured people. The second mention of ‘father’ emphasizes a second dimension of Abraham’s character. More than the physical connection, those who became the children of Abraham were those who learned from him spiritually. As we know, parents have a deep impact on a child’s psyche. They are the child’s first teachers. A son generally admires and seeks to emulate his father, and the father’s perception of life and his ways of living are absorbed by the young son and become part of him. When the parent is righteous and godly and his life is filled with love and truth, this will be imparted to the child.

Proverbs 20:7 tells us, “A righteous man walks in his integrity – fortunate are his children after him.” We are commanded to respect and honor our physical parents, for they were partners with God in giving us life. When a child grows to maturity, and can evaluate his or her own role in life, they can appreciate the good passed on by their parents or can take steps to overcome any negative traits and effects of ungodly behaviour inherited from them. All of life is a trial and testing of one’s character and spiritual growth in one form or another and here we are informed that Abraham withstood all his trials in his love for God.

Abraham, thus, was proven able to pass on to his children, both pysical and spiritual, a true, deep heritage of faith and godly righteousness. To this very day, we are able to look to the Word of God and to the lives of our forefather Abraham and the other first fathers and mothers of our faith, who were taught by him and Sarah, in order to learn from their deeds and values. We can deeply appreciate how their godly influence has permeated throughout the generations.

Likewise, in the fullness and embrace of the chessed ve’emet, truth and loving-kindness of Abraham, Yeshua opened the way to the Kingdom of God for all, and the nations have been reached with the teaching of God’s Word and ways through subsequent generations, to this day.  When God, our Father in Heaven, first sent His uniquely-born Son and Messiah into the world, he was named Yeshua-Immanuel, Salvation-God with us. He came bearing the very imprint of God fully in his being and he, therefore, carried and could reflect the perfect image of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. As the apostle Paul affirms in his second letter to the Corintians, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – Messiah Yeshua” (2 Cor. 4:6). Yeshua perfectly expressed the fullness of his physical earthly heritage together with his spiritual Heavenly heritage, and, like Abraham, accomplished his Divine mission in his love for God his Father.

And, as children of God, we are called to do the same.

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* Irving M.Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol.3
** Ibid., 22

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