November 11, 2016
10 Cheshvan 5777
In the fall of 1992, I arrived in New York City as a freshman at NYU, excited for all that the school had to offer. My first experience in secular education (other than a summer stint in public school to learn how to type) was full of amazing experiences both academic and social. Of the latter, my introduction into the Greek system was one of the most impactful. While I didn’t join a fraternity during my first semester due to soccer (& academic) responsibilities, in the spring semester a few of my friends and I decided to take the plunge and pledge of the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). Over the next few months, my mind and body were tested by the upper classmen “brothers” through many tests which were intended to test my faith and assure them that I was “brother” material.
While the spring of 1993 was my “pledging”, Parshat Lech Lecha was Avraham (Abraham) Avinu’s “pledging”. Hashem (G-d) puts Avraham through a series of ten tests which according to the Rambam (Avos 5:3), include:
1. Hashem’s instruction to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.
2. A famine Avraham encounters Immediately upon his arrival in Canaan
3. The capture of Sarah (Avraham’s wife) by the Mitzrim (Egyptians).
4. Avraham’s battle of the four and five kings.
5. Sarah’s barrenness.
6. Avraham’s bris (self-circumcision) at an advanced age.
7. Sarah’s capture by the king of Gerar
8. Hashem’s instruction to Avraham to send Hagar away after having a child with her.
9. The estrangement of Avraham’s son, Ishmael
10. Hashem’s instruction to Avraham to sacrifice his son Yitzchak on an altar (the akaydah).
Not all of these tests are found in the Torah (bible) and in fact different commentators consider different tests to be counted amongst the ten (such as Avraham being thrown into the fiery furnace). Regardless of which are the specific ten tests, one test is clearly mentioned in the Torah and that is the test of the akaydah, where Avraham is instructed by Hashem to take his beloved son, Yitzchak, to a remote mountain top and sacrifice him.
Like many of the tests designed by my soon-to-be fraternity brothers in 1993, the test of the akaydah seemed to be without any true purpose other than to test Avraham’s will and faith, yet the test of the akaydah was different than the first nine tests. While in the previous tests, Avraham was challenged through physical and emotional trials and tribulations, none of these tests were in direct conflict with what he had been taught by Hashem and that he had heretofore taught onto others. On the contrary, the akaydah was a diametrically opposed message compared to all that Hashem had previously taught Avraham. Recall that Hashem had promised Avraham a son (named Yitchak) who would carry on his lineage (hard to do if sacrificed). Yet still despite all of that, Avraham was prepared to carry through with Hashem’s instructions.
The Ramban notes that the goal of Hashem’s “hazing” was to allow Avraham to realize his own potential. In fact all ‘tests’ found throughout the Torah, we are taught, are actually for the benefit of the ‘pledge.’ Other commentaries suggest that the tests publicize one’s piety and closeness to Hashem. Ramban suggests the concluding words of the akaydah not as “now I know that you fear Hashem” (Bereshit 22:12), but rather as “now I have made it known that you fear Hashem.” Ramban homiletically changes the word yadati (I know) to hoda’ati (announced).
It is no coincidence as well that the akaydah was the tenth test as the #10, the Maharal points out, represents both kedusha (holiness) and completion. As to kedusha, there are 10 commandments, Yom Kippur is on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, and the list goes on. As to completion (wholeness rather than holiness), 10 is the first number which sees all the unit digits (0, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.) used, 10 men comprise a minyan, and the world was created with 10 sayings (Avos 5:1) Given all of this, the tenth in a series of ten is special, unique and final.
Speaking of final, finally, it is not a coincidence that the Hebrew words for miracle “nes” is similar to the Hebrew word for test “nisayon”. A miracle occurs when Hashem breaks out of His modus operendi of natural law and demonstrates His omnipotence. A test is when Hashem asks us to do the same.
May this, and all Shabbatot be one of peace and tranquility, quality time away from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives for us to focus on our families, our friends and that which Hashem has provided us. Shabbat Shalom.
Josh Hartman graduated the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1986 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1991. He holds a BA in History and a BS in Chemistry from New York University and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University. Josh is the Executive Director at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, an affiliate of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. He lives with his wife, Robyn, and their three children Bailey (15), Addison (15) and Carly (11) in Englewood, NJ.