Parshas Vayeira — Of Trials and Banners

The sages tell us that the Almighty tested our father Abraham with ten distinct trials.  But why?  Since G-d knows the future, He knew that Avrohom would pass each test.  What then was G-d’s purpose in testing him?

As with everything else G-d does, trials are for us, not for Himself.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for test, nisoyon, shares its grammatical root with the word neis, which is commonly translated as “miracle,” but which literally means “banner.”

A banner is that which rises above the confusion below to rally people to a common destination point.  Similarly, the Almighty occasionally reveals Himself through open miracles when we need reminding that the confusion of the material world is not a true representation of spiritual reality.

Finally, when G-d places obstacles in our path that try our resolve, our patience, or our ability, He does so not so that He can find out whether or not we will succeed but so that we can set our sights above all the impediments to personal growth and fulfill our true potential.  It is based upon this understanding that the sages tell us that G-d never gives a person any test he is unable to pass.  The test itself is the banner that draws our attention to how much we are able to achieve.

And what of those external challenges that are clearly beyond our ability?  What of incurable diseases, personal tragedies, and global crises over which we have no control?

In fact, the trials G-d gives us never require us to overcome those obstacles that are indeed insurmountable.  Sometimes, as difficult as it may be for us to hear, G-d’s tests may require us to accept the inevitability of unpleasant eventualities.  Just as Avrohom could not change the famine that drove him from the land, the untimely death of his wife Sarah, or the seeming illogic of G-d’s command that he sacrifice his son, similarly we cannot fathon the logic or reason behind many of the circumstances that throw our own lives into disarray.  Nevertheless, we can learn from Avrohom how to find the inner strength to persevere through trust born from logic:  by recognizing that the Creator of the complex and unfathomable world in which human beings live most ceraintly has sound reasons, even for that which defies human understanding.

Tests are not easy.  But the effort required to pass them transforms us from insigificant creatures of mere flesh and blood into truly heroic spiritual beings.

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