“Our forefather Avrohom was tested with 10 trials, and he withstood them all, to show the degree of our forefather Avrohom’s love for Hashem (Avos 5:4). In this Mishnah, Avrohom is cited as our “forefather,” yet, in the previous Mishnah, where it is stated that Avrohom received the reward of all the 10 generations that preceded him, the word avinu, our forefather, is not mentioned. Why are the nisyonos of Avrohom in particular associated with the fact that he is our forefather?
Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains this based on a posuk: “One who walks in innocence is a righteous man: fortunate are his sons after him” (Mishlei 20:6). When a tzaddik toils to acquire or perfect a good middah, he is not merely improving himself. He is also bequeathing this middah to his progeny, so that they can acquire it naturally with less toil. For the middah becomes part of the tzaddik’s genetic makeup and is inherited by his children.
This is why especially here, regarding the 10 nisyonos, Avrohom is mentioned as avinu. For by withstanding all of these nisyonos, he passed down to his descendents the ability to pass all of these tests.
We have seen this throughout our history, says Rav Chaim. Simple unlearned Yidden gave up their lives al kiddush Hashem. From where did they draw the strength for this? Because it was ingrained in us by Avrohom Avinu, who was moser nefesh at Ur Kasdim for his emunah. Similarly, when one is suddenly aroused to pick up and move to Eretz Yisroel, it comes from the nisayon of lech lecha when Avrohom Avinu left his home amidst all of the hardships and never once questioned them. The same applies to all 10 trials. Avrohom Avinu paved the way for us to withstand similar nisyonos with greater ease (Ruach Chaim).
The first one of the trials mentioned in the Torah is when Hashem said to Avrom, “Go for yourself from your land from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Bereishis 12:1). The meforshim ask: Why this considered such a great nisayon? Didn’t Hashem promise Avrohom immense reward, both physical and spiritual? That he will have children, become famous, and wealthy? Who wouldn’t be willing to leave his home and surroundings for such fame and fortune?
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 39:1) discusses this nisayon. Rabi Yitzchok quoted a posuk: “Hear O daughter and see and incline your ear: forget your people and the house of your father” (Tehillim 45:11) Hashem’s intention in telling Avrohom “lech lecha” was not merely to leave his home and surroundings physically, but rather to become a totally different person. In order to do this, he had to completely forget his people and his father’s house. For as long as he wouldn’t disengage from his past, he would not be able to hear the word of Hashem. This, to totally uproot one’s past and all of its experiences and ideas from his heart, is a very difficult thing for one to do.
Rav Leib Gurwicz, rosh yeshiva of Gateshead, compared this to a Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a). Rabi Zeira, before going up to Eretz Yisroel, fasted 100 fasts, davening that he forget what he learned in Bavel so that it would not hinder him from absorbing the Torah of Eretz Yisroel. Even though Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi are parts of one Torah, from the same source, and the only difference between them is in their methodology, nevertheless, Rabi Zeira was concerned that his scholarship of the past would compromise his comprehension of the new derech he was embarking on. Surely, then, in the case of Avrohom Avinu, who grew up in the house of his father Terach and constantly heard the ideas of Nimrod and his friends, how difficult it was to totally eliminate any smattering of his past and enter the innermost truths of Hashem’s Torah. This was the nisayon of lech lecha.
Rav Leib added that he heard from his rebbi, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, the Mirrer mashgiach that every person grows and progresses on the foundations he received in the home and environment of his youth. What was considered important in his household, he will naturally hold in high esteem for the rest of his life. If his parents valued Torah and talmidei chachomim above everything else, then he will do the same and strive to live a life of Torah, but if they placed emphasis on money or honor, or other acquisitions in this world, then that will remain uppermost in his set of values.
There are very few people who suddenly change their way of thinking and say to themselves that the ideas they grew up with are incorrect. And even if they do try and change their way of thinking, it is very difficult to uproot thoughts that have been inculcated in them from their youngest years. As Chazal say: “A mistake…once it has entered remains” (Bava Basra 21a).
How important it is, then, to be mechanech our children al taharas hakodesh. How paramount it is to isolate them from the Terachs and Nimrods of our day who worship matters that ultimately have no value. For if we don’t protect them from ideas that are contrary to pure Torah values and they are exposed to influences that compromise their ruchniyus, it will be much harder for them to shake off these hindrances later on in life. What an advantage it is for a child whose home and surroundings provide him with a rock-solid foundation of genuine Torah hashkafos. This is the greatest contribution we can make for their aliyah for the rest of their lives.
Rav Yaakov Edelstein, rov of Ramat Hasharon, related: “Before my father became rov of Ramat Hasharon, he was a rov in Russia. When Stalin ym”sh came to power, it became more and more difficult to remain there as a frum Yid, until finally, after much effort, we were granted permission to leave the country.
“We left from the port of Odessa and the voyage to Eretz Yisroel took about two weeks. When we finally arrived, we had no place to settle and our family was scattered amongst various relatives. My grandmother stayed at the home of one cousin and my sister at the home of another. But our father did not send the boys away. Both my brother, Rav Gershon, and I always remained by his side, because wherever we stayed – a short while in Kfar Chassidim, a period in Yerushalayim, sometime in Tel Aviv – he always maintained a seder halimud with us in Gemara.
“Even when we were traveling from the port of Odessa and all of our belongings were in the baggage compartment, we still kept a small suitcase with us. And what was in it? A Gemara Bava Kamma that all three of us learned from together and a Chumash Vayikra for parshas hashovua, so that we would not miss even one day of learning.
“When we finally settled in Ramat Hasharon in 1934 and rented a house, we had no furniture at all – no tables or chairs or even beds. An old man who was originally from America bought new beds and sent us his two old ones, one for our father and one for our grandmother. The rest of us would sleep on the floor.
“What was the first thing our father did when we moved in? He went to the shul and asked permission from the gabbaim to borrow two Gemaros Bava Kamma so that it would be easier for us to learn. Then he borrowed empty orange crates that we could sit on while we learned the Gemara, all of this before he did anything to make the house more comfortable. With this, our father taught us what is most important on the list of priorities. Before we worry about what to eat and what to sleep on, we must be concerned about our limud haTorah” (Gaon Yaakov).
Rav Dov Berish Wiedenfeld, the Tchebiner Rov, related that when he was a child, his father, Rav Yaakov of Rimlov, the Kochav M’Yaakov, told him to bring a Gemara Shabbos. Rav Yaakov wanted to be sure that he remembered the order of every Tosafos in the masechta by heart, so he asked his son to follow along inside as he listed every dibbur hamaschil, every heading of Tosafos, in order to correct him if he made a mistake. Rav Dov Berish said that he was sure then as a young boy that every rov is that proficient in Shas, and that surely when he gets older, he will strive to accomplish the same… And he did (Betzilo Chamdeti).
The avos hakedoshim passed many nisyonos that made it easier for future generations to walk in the same path that they did. But more than anything, they were mechanech our nation and how we must build our homes and lead our lives. The holy Shechinah dwelled in their tents, which had the same simanim as the Mishkon. The candle in their home was never extinguished, like the menorah. Their bread never became stale, like the lechem haponim. And like the Mishkon, there was an anan, a cloud, over their tents. If we follow their lead, we, too, can have the Shechinah in our midst to protect us from any harm and to bring blessing to our families.