Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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17 Cheshvan 5760 - October 27, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"And You Found His Heart Loyal Unto You"

by L. Jungerman

"Avrohom Ovinu was tested with ten trials and withstood them all, to prove Avrohom Ovinu's great love," Pirkei Ovos.

Most of the trials with which Avrohom was tested were enumerated in last week's portion of Lech Lecho: Going forth from his land; the famine in the land of Canaan; Sorai's being abducted to Pharaoh's palace; the war of the kings; the expulsion of Hogor and Yishmoel and the circumcision. In his commentary on Ovos, the Gra brings the source for the enumeration of the trials, but despite the great difficulty in Avrohom's surmounting these trials, they were not sufficient to warrant his being awarded the description of "G-d-fearing." Only in this week's portion, at the conclusion of the tenth test, the Akeidah, is he told, "Now do I know that you are G- d- fearing." Now, not before.

Why? Was not this designation of piety evident throughout the previous nine tests and before them? To be sure, each hurdle overcome exposed a new dimension and depth to his G-d-fear, but how are we to understand that "only now do I know that you are G-d-fearing"? Up till then it was not possible to make such a definitive statement? If, theoretically speaking, he had not passed the final test and had not achieved this ultimate level of devoutness and steadfastness, would that entirely negate his fear of Hashem? What had caused him to withstand the previous nine tests if not his G-d-fear?

This topic is dealt with at length in the various works of our sages throughout the ages. We will try to present them in more familiar terms.

The first premise to consider is that the honorific descriptions which the Torah conveys upon a person are earned only if they represent an unchanging truth, an unalterable reality that will never fall short. Anything below this cannot be considered truth in the eyes of the Torah and has no place in the Torah of eternal, abiding Truth.

Chazal denote as a ma'ayon achziv, an erstwhile (literally -- disappointing) fountain, any fountain that stops spouting forth water as infrequently as once in seventy years!

This, then, is an example of what the Torah considers true and valid, in contrast to the deceptive standards accepted by us, which attribute importance to temporary events. In the eyes of the Torah, so long as a condition is not immutable, it is not true, it is not emes.

Therefore, when the purely objective description of `G-d- fearing' is about to be attached to a human being, the determining question is not if he is at that moment in a state of piety, but if his measure of acquired piety is immutable and not subject to any regression whatsoever.

When the personality in question is Avrohom Ovinu, the subject veers from the narrow bounds of his figure alone. It must be ascertained whether his piety will endure and not change forever more, even in his seed, to the end of time. For if there will be a recession by his descendants, one cannot rule out the possibility of it having originated with the progenitor, Avrohom, as a small flaw. We see that Yaakov Ovinu prayed that his name not be mentioned with regard to the controversy of Korach, which is why the Torah omits Yaakov in the list of his genealogy and stops short at Levi (see Rashi). Yaakov was, indeed, afraid that he would be blamed for an imperfection that later resulted in such a magnitude of treachery.

The Ramban states in Parshas Nitzovim: "`For the father is the root and the son is an offshoot...': a good root will not produce evil, and whoever has a heart that is whole with Hashem and never contemplates idolatry will not produce an offspring who does worship it." Therefore, when the Torah prepares to establish that Avrohom Ovinu was "G-d- fearing," it must include a determined fact that the Jewish people, descendants of Avrohom Ovinu, shall forever be G-d- fearing, without any aberration or regression.

In order to be worthy of such an eternal, comprehensive designation, it was necessary to put Avrohom to the final, ultimate test of faith: Akeidas Yitzchok.

In this test, he demonstrated that in all of his faculties, deep down to the very marrow of his bones, he was thoroughly, wholeheartedly, ultimately loyal to Hashem and to Hashem alone. Had there been the slightest selfish residue hidden somewhere in his psyche, the tiniest measure of independence or self interest or self pity or anything else, he would not have withstood the test. Not because he did not want to, but simply because he would not have been capable of it.

To slaughter his dearly beloved only son? With his own hands? Besimcha?

His withstanding this trial was the outcome of a necessary fact that Avrohom Ovinu had no personal attachment to Avrohom Ovinu! He was completely dissociated. He was the embodiment of yirei Elokim: he was a G-d-fearing entity. Wholly. Perfectly. He did not consider himself and did not feel himself. He was G-d-fearing, par excellence. In essence. And G-d had said: "Bring him up there for a sacrifice."

From that very moment on, from his becoming an entity of "G-d- fear," this designation was determined forever more; it would never change. At this point, the father prototype became the root, and the descendants its offshoots, products of a "sweet," goodly stock from which bitter could not be produced. From a "G-d-fearer" there emerged a nation of G-d- fearers. This reality was henceforth immutable. Even if they would sin, for "A Jew -- even if he sins, he is still a Jew."

The innermost core, the pintele Yid, would always remain intact, the flame would always flicker, if not burn. That core might become overlaid with rags and rubbish, grime and dirt that piled up in layers over the years, but the root that hails back to the patriarch would always remain.

"Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Avrohom."

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