Chazal teach: "One is obligated to say: `When will my deeds
reach the deeds of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchok and
Yaakov?'"(Tana Devei Eliyohu Ch. 25). We are obligated to
strive for greatness and not be complacent in this endeavor.
Therefore we aspire to emulate the superlative example set by
One might ask, "Why don't we try to model ourselves after the
great leaders of our times or of the past generation, for
example, the Chofetz Chaim?" The answer given is that it is
not enough to try to emulate great people. Our yearning
should be to reach the level of the greatest of the great.
The obvious implication here is that the Ovos were indeed the
greatest. But is this actually true? Certainly they were
greater than the Rishonim, the Tanaim, Amoroim and even most
of the Nevi'im. However, were they greater than even Moshe
The Torah concludes with the verse: "There will never be
another Prophet who will reach Moshe's stature" (Devorim
34:10). Moshe was the greatest Novi there ever was, past
and future -- including the Ovos. This is one of the Rambam's
thirteen Principles of Faith. Moshe is also called "Servant
of Hashem" (ibid. 34:3; see also Bamidbar 2:7).
Not only was Moshe greater than the Ovos in prophecy but he
was also more advanced in character development. We find that
Moshe surpassed Avrohom in the trait of anovoh,
humility. The gemora states that while Avrohom
regarded himself as "ofor vo'eifer dirt and ashes"
(Bereishis 18:27), Moshe and Aharon said "venachnu
moh? what are we?" (Shemos 16:8). Even though Avrohom
was extremely humble, nevertheless he considered himself to
be dirt and ashes, which is still something tangible. Moshe
and Aharon went further: they did not consider themselves to
be anything at all (Chulin 89a). The Torah also
testifies, "And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any
man on the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). Why
then are we not obligated to use Moshe Rabbeinu as our role
In the last century and a half there have been great advances
in technology. Let us focus on two: the telephone and
videoconferencing. The first allows two individuals in
different locations to speak to one another. The other not
only lets them speak, it actually lets them see each other in
living color. Obviously the latter invention is greater.
There is no comparison between a simultaneous videoconference
of three individuals on separate continents, and the first
telephone that probably did not work over great distances and
produced only poor reception.
Yet if I would ask you who invented the first telephone, you
could quickly answer that it was Alexander Graham Bell. While
if I asked you who first developed the technology for
videoconferencing, you are unlikely to know; and chances are
you probably do not care either. Why do we know more about an
obsolete instrument invented more than a century ago than
technological breakthroughs of our own times?
The answer is that the telephone came first. Before we had
the telephone, we were just as technologically distant from
talking to someone far away as we were from being able to see
them. They were both just dreams. The invention of the
telephone was the start. Using that technology we were able
to advance and improve what Bell started until today, when we
have videoconferencing. He did something no one thought
possible and made it a reality and we built on it. Now every
telephone and videoconference is a testimony to Bell's
Herein lies the answer to our question. Even if Moshe was
actually greater than Avrohom and reached higher levels,
Avrohom's achievements have a different significance. He
challenged accepted beliefs and found Hashem in a world far
removed from G-d. Believing in G-d at that time was probably
just as outrageous as speaking on the telephone!
Through reflection Avrohom saw many different ways of serving
Hashem: the 613 mitzvos and all the future rabbinical
decrees. He stood up to his attackers and spread the message.
No matter how great his successors were, it could only ever
be a case of building on Avrohom's great legacy. Even if
Moshe Rabbeinu is considered greater than Avrohom, his
greatness was built on Avrohom's previous efforts.
This is the significance of the Ovos. Since they were the
first, they are regarded as the founders. Therefore we strive
to emulate them.
And there is another lesson we can learn from them as well.
They were successful despite all the challenges they faced.
They realized that each test was an opportunity to attain
greatness. We also need to persevere in the face of our daily
challenges and utilize them to achieve greatness.
Perhaps this teaching of Chazal contains a deeper insight.
Let us examine Avrohom's title, Avrohom Ovinu, Avrohom our
forefather. When did he receive this title and how did he
merit this name? Logic would dictate that when Yitzchok was
born, Avrohom could be accurately referred to as Ovinu.
Rabbi Chaim Volozhin zt"l has a different answer to
this question. In his commentary on Pirkei Ovos, he
contrasts two Mishnayos which mention Avrohom. The
first Mishna states that there were ten generations
from Noach to Avrohom. The next Mishna teaches that
Hashem gave Avrohom Ovinu ten tests (Ovos 5:2,3). Why
does the first Mishna refer to him simply as Avrohom,
while the following Mishna refers to him as Avrohom Ovinu?
Rabbi Chaim Volozhin states that we see from here that
Avrohom isn't our forefather solely as a result of being our
physical ancestor, but also as a result of being our
spiritual forefather (Ruach Chaim 5:2).
It says in Mishlei, a tzaddik can toil with
great effort to reach his goals and his descendants will then
carry on his ideals with relative ease. The tzaddik
plods to make the path, and then his children simply walk
through on the well-worn trail. What one attains becomes part
of himself; it is in his genes, so to speak, which pass on to
the next generation.
This was Avrohom Ovinu's avodoh, to toil and pass the
ten tests, to ingrain them in his being so that the lessons
gained would become imprinted in the following generations.
Reb Chaim says that if one looks at the tests and looks at
the many traits of the Jewish people, they will be very
similar. This is because Avrohom lived through these tests to
give us these traits. Let us examine a few.
Jews of every era, no matter what their station in life and
level of observance, have always been ready to give up their
lives al kiddush Hashem. From what inner source does
this derive? From Avrohom Ovinu who jumped into the
kivshan ho'aish -- a fiery furnace. And who was it
that was ready to give up his son's life in Akeidas
Jews throughout the ages have voluntarily gone up to Eretz
Yisroel, abandoned their often comfortable lifestyles, risked
dangerous journeys to get there, without so much as a worry
as to how they will make a parnassa. Even people
brought up in Western society with all its comforts and
financial security pick up and go, not worried about how they
will survive materially, forsaking many values with which
they have been imbued since childhood.
This level of commitment (that even apparently secularized
Jews have "acquired") comes from Avrohom Ovinu. When Hashem
said "Lech lecho," he went immediately without any
questions. Many of Avrohom's children do just the same.
A fundamental belief is that whatever happens to one is for
the good. From where does this lofty trait come? Again from
After going to Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of Hashem's will,
there was a famine. Avrohom accepted this without complaint,
without even once questioning G-d. He passed these traits on
Whatever greatness we can attain springs from the seeds that
Avrohom planted. Directly from his tireless efforts in a
world where everything was set against him, we now have the
potential to become whatever we desire. Every great act that
any Jew does bears Avrohom's signature, and is a testimony to
his great achievements.
We mentioned above that we must strive to emulate the Ovos.
We aim to be the greatest and since they were the first we
consider them the greatest.
R' Chaim Volozhin adds another dimension in our quest to
follow their lead. We can say that we strive to emulate the
Ovos in order that our deeds should be akin to their deeds.
Avrohom's whole life was in preparation for building Klal
Yisroel. He implanted in our innermost recesses
everything we can achieve.
We should also consider our lives as a time of preparation.
Even before we dream of having children, our experiences and
actions are penetrating our beings. They make us who we are
and enable us to mold our own children. We should perform our
actions with so much enthusiasm and dedication in order that
they should be ingrained in our beings as well as in those of
the next generation! This is our hope: that we should be Ovos
for our children and that our actions will be worthy to be
deemed ma'asei Ovos, deeds of the Forefathers.
The author is an avreich in Kollel Beth Hatalmud,
Melbourne Australia, and is the editor of the Kollel's
publication "Moadim" which appears before each of the