We are aware that one of the ten tests and challenges that confront our father Abraham is the Almighty's commandment to Abraham that forms the name of this week's Torah reading. Abraham is directed to, ‘go, for your sake,’ leave the comforts and familiar surroundings of your home and society, and to take a journey into a strange and unknown land.
According to Chassidic tradition, this instruction from heaven was not localized, to be heard only by the ears of Abraham. Many people also heard this directive, but they did not feel that it had any relevance to them, and they never acted upon it. It was the holy nature of our father Abraham that compelled him to realize that the message was truly meant for him, and he then undertook the journey with his wife, Sarah, that would make them the parents of the Jewish people for all eternity.
There is also another and perhaps deeper meaning into those two words of
"lech lecha." This is not only an immediate instruction regarding a specific journey and trip, but it is also a general outline and pattern for the remainder of the life of Abraham and Sarah, that guides them long after this initial sojourn has been taken and its purpose accomplished.
Heaven, so to speak, is telling Abraham that the purpose in life is always to keep on going, never to rest on one's past accomplishments, but to always see that there is more to be done. The work of human beings in this life is never fully achieved. We are never allowed to quit, so to speak, in midstream. As long as the breath of life exists within us, we should continue to be devoted to furthering Torah accomplishments.
That is undoubtedly what the Mishnah in Avot wishes to communicate to us by saying that Abraham was tested ten times, and he able to with-stand all these trials. The Hebrew expression "to stand" not only refers to a physical description on two legs, but also implies that Abraham was elevated and made greater by each of the challenges and tests that he was able to overcome.
I have pointed out in previous articles that the rabbis saw that this was the main difference between Abraham and Noah. There are many people in the world who accomplish noble and even holy tasks. But there are very few who do so on a consistent basis throughout their entire lives, no matter what circumstances they face. It is one of the reasons why we never find in the Talmud or Jewish tradition the concept of retirement as being a time of leisure, a time of not having to face new tasks or challenges.
There is no end to the accomplishments and challenges of life when there is life itself within our bodies. The challenges of age are far different from those of youth, in that there is no excuse for attempting to shirk them and avoid their rigors. Thus, we are always meant to keep on going to the extent that we are able to do so. That has always been the message of Abraham to us, for all our generations.
Rabbi Berel Wein