Ephron pulls the chair on Avraham, positing an exorbitant amount of cash for the plot of land Avraham wants to bury Sarah in. Avraham had not so much of a choice but to accept. One who reads through the exchange and puts himself in place of Avraham can imagine the possible frustration and annoyance involved, as well as the faintheartedness of realizing that now an enormous amount of money needs to be spent on the plot. Moreover, Avraham simply wanted to do a mitzvah, to bury Sarah. Why did it have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t it be a smoother process?
“We” may ask. We might question. But the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah, 6:4) tells us that Hashem testifies about Avraham that despite all this, Avraham didn’t question Hashem’s ways, even though he needed to forfeit a massive amount of money. This reminded me of what might occur to many of us: When we want to be better people, when we want to do mitzvot, come close to Hashem, etc., sometimes we experience a lot of difficulty in the process, as if we’re being held back. We ask, “I’m just trying to do the right thing, why am I faced with so much opposition?” Avraham also just wanted to do the right thing, and we learn that even in such circumstances, there’s a reason for the challenge, and like Avraham, to continue going without getting involved in Hashem’s runnings. In the very beginning of the parsha when Avraham mourns Sarah’s passing, the pasuk (23:2) says, “Avraham came to eulogize Sarah, and to cry over her (וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ).” In the Torah, the “kaf” in the word “velivkota” is uniquely small. The Ba’al Haturim explains that this teaches us that Avraham only cried a little. Why only a little? R’ Nattan Vachtfogel (Kovetz Sichot) brings an idea that Avraham intentionally limited his crying in order that it not lead to questioning Hashem’s ways. We see from here how much Avraham went above and beyond—even in typical painful times—in order not to come to delve into matters of God.
Avraham’s attribute of not questioning Hashem and going through with Hashem’s Will with simplicity was no simple matter. The Tosafot Yom Tov (Pirkei Avot, 5:3) quotes Rashi who says that the tests of Avraham were tests aimed to challenge Avraham’s faith—whether he would question Hashem or not during the process. Hence, according to Rashi, the difficulty inherent in the tests of Avraham were not necessarily the practical challenges, but rather the philosophical challenges. Each test was another series of potential questions that could have bombarded Avraham’s psyche, but he persevered and didn’t enter such a zone. Thus, we can say that Avraham didn’t necessarily have this trait naturally, but rather Hashem gave him the ten tests in order for Avraham to develop and strengthen himself in this trait.
Based on Tosafot Yom Tov, R’ Yaakov Galinsky (Vehigadta, Lech Lecha) answers a famous question posed on the Rambam. There’s a rather dramatic moment in Avraham’s life where he was challenged by Nimrod to either give up his faith or be thrown in a fire. Avraham chose the heat, but was miraculously spared from death. We would think this would be recorded as one of Avraham’s ten major tests, yet the Rambam doesn’t list it as one of them. R’ Galinsky explains that Rambam didn’t mention it because when it comes to a life and death ultimatum, the decision is a quick decision. Avraham wouldn’t have time to think it over and in the process ask why Hashem put him through this. Moreover, the pain of being in the fire is quick death, and in the pain itself he wouldn’t either be able to question. Nor would he be able to question in the aftermath, as is obvious. Hence, it wasn’t listed as one of the tests because the main test for Avraham were tests of questioning, and in this test of the fire, there would be no room for such matters.
The morning of the intense test of the akieda, the pasuk says, “Avraham woke up early in the morning.” R’ Galinsky (ibid, Vayera) brings R’ Dessler who points out that the pasuk implies that Avraham slept the night before! Not sleeping the night before an exam is normal, but here we see that Avraham slept the night before going to slaughter his own beloved son! How is such a thing possible? Yet, we can answer that Avraham reached a high proximity of mastering the art of not questioning Hashem—his mind in that regard was off, and hence, he could sleep peacefully.
Tehillim (36:7) says: “Man and animal Hashem saves.” The Gemara (Chullin 5b) says this refers to people who “are bare of knowledge and make themselves like an animal,” yet also notes this as a praise! How is this positive? Perhaps we can explain that one who doesn’t question, one who turns his or her mind off in relations to God’s matters—meaning they make their minds naked of any knowledge they might think they have in Hashem’s runnings, and thus they become like animals stripped of any ability to question—are in fact to be praised. Indeed, Sefat Emet (comm. to Tehillim) writes that the above is teaching us to nullify ourselves to Hashem, and hence, we can say that walking with Hashem with simplicity and trust in His ways is one way of nullifying ourselves to his will.
One might think that refraining from questioning Hashem when we go through difficult times (and also in its aftermath) is out of our reach, as we see from Avraham for whom it seemingly took an enormous amount of self control to do so. However, there’s an amazing comment from R’ Chaim Volozhin (Pirkei Avot 5:3) who writes that the overwhelming effort and perseverance Avraham put into overcoming the nisyonot caused that our ability to overcome nisyonot be part of our genetic makeup. Hence, mastering this trait caused this trait to become in our nature—it’s in our DNA! Not only that, R’ Chaim says, “with ‘some’ effort we can reach this level.” We too can do it.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]