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PARASHAS LECH LECHA - The test of making a living

Updated: Nov 9, 2020


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Parashas Lech Lecha speaks about the life of Avraham Avenu, who goes through 10 tests[1]. According to the rishonim, the third test was the famine which occurred shortly after Avraham avinu arrived in canaan[2] ('vayehi rov baoretz'). The meforshim talk about the double wording of "Eretz," teaching us the halacha that a person should not leave Eretz yisrael unless under extreme circumstances such as famine. The mefarshim explain, included in his test of famine was the test of parnassa - making a living.


What does the nisayan 'vayehi rov baoretz' have to do with parnassa? There is a dispute between Rashi and the Ramban on this explanation. Rashi learns that the test was 'shelo yira achar hakodosh boruch hu'. When Avraham came to Cannan and saw the famine he could have questioned 'is this how hashem takes care of him'? Nevertheless, he did not! The Ramban learns that Avraham made a consequential mistake; he sinned by leaving Eretz yisrael. Instead of leaving, he should have relied on hashem and stayed. Furthermore, the trip to Mitzrayim also had consequences since he put his wife, sarah, in danger.


However, what should Avraham have done, he acted on what was required of him? Why was this a "great sin"? Interestingly, the Ramban learns hishtadlus is meant for the simple people, but tzaddikim should rely on hashem. We see this concept we from the Steipler. The Steipler wanted to be on this level of trust in hashem that he would not allow doctors to get involved with his health at the end of his life. It once happened, when the Steipler went into a coma, the doctors placed him on IV. When the Ssteipler woke up, he angrily pulled it out, saying he did not want the doctor to get involved.


That story is above our level. However, the second point regarding putting Sarah into danger does apply to us. We can make a living; however, it is imperative that we do not do it at our family's expense, like taking long work hours and then not having time to learn with the kids. This can include a danger spiritually and physically. Sarah was put at risk by both spiritually and physically.


Rashi says that the test of Avraham avenu was that he could have had thoughts of complaints to hashem. There are two ways we can understand this. The medrash says that hashem tells Avraham, 'I take care of you, protect you and feed you. When there was a hunger, I took you down to Mitzrayim'. Avraham could have thought to himself, 'is this what is called taking care of me, telling me to go to Canaan where there is a famine'? So, was the hunger a nisayon or was it that hashem was taking care of him? Was it a good thing or a bad thing?


The satmar rav asked what is the point of the nisyanas? The introduction to the mesilas yeshorim addresses the hardships one goes through in life expressing it as an essential part of life. The ramban in moreh nevuchin says that the reason for the test is to show the world that hashem and the tzaddikim are united. Where even if hashem sends tests to the tzadikim, they pass it. That is how we tell if we see when people have true yiras shomayim.


The Sefas Emes explains that the root of the word nisayon is nes. When one takes something and puts it as a statue like flying a flag. Here the tzadik becomes the flag showing everyone that we can be moser nefesh for the sake of hashem. Other Rishonim discuss that it is about realizing the potential of a person and turning it into action. Others say the reason for nisyanas is to help us earn olom habah and to make us appreciate it.


The Satmar Rebbe asked, 'if the reason for nisyanas is for us to show how earnest we are with hashem, how do we know what went on in avraham's mind? Chazal tells us what happened in the torah. This becomes the lesson of the nisayan. However, We can explain further, saying that the explanation of the nisayan is not very much what he conceived, to complain or not complain, but that he went down to Mitzrayim because that is what hashem wanted him to do. It is not what he thought but his actions.


A person can have a career and be quite troubled with their job. This person has two possibilities, to quit and remain at home until he accepts a different job, or he can continue to accomplish while having in mind that 'this is what hashem requires of me now.' the bracha in birkas hashachar, 'sheoso li kol tzorki,' addresses parnassa. The words of the bracha is 'kol tzorki' meaning all my needs. Hashem gives us precisely what we need. We do not say sheoso li mezonos, that gave me to eat.


The chofetz chaim used to say that it says in the mishnah ('ezeh hu oshir hasomeach bechelko,' not 'hasomeach mema sheyesh li') "who is the rich one? One who is satisfied with what he has" and it doesn't say "...is happy with what he received.' this is so since if someone has nothing, he could still be happy. Part of being rich is not accepting the money but the situation that hashem gives you.


The medrash says that the famine was hashem telling Avraham avenue, 'I am feeding you; I am taking care of your parnassah'. The journey that Avraham took to mitzrayim was the actual test. It was not what Avraham was thinking but rather what he did. Parnassa teaches a lot about a person's inner yiras shamayim. If you accept something, then you are showing that 'this what hashem wants from you.'


The song of the ant (perek shirah) is 'nosen lechem lechol bosso omafli laasos'. The ant works the hardest to sustain their living. Why then does the ant say this praise? The ant is telling hashem that 'I may work hard for my food, but I know that this is what you want from me'.


How do we know what career hashem decided for us in life? The Satamar Rav says a person has an inclination on what he needs and where he must go to earn a living. When you ask a person, 'why did you choose a certain profession?' they would respond, 'I always aspired to do it'. A person is guided, and we should listen to the sign we receive to see what we should do. Unfortunately, we sometimes ignore these signs since we want to dictate how we make a living.


Parnassah started as a curse because Adam ate from the Eitz Hadas. Why was this the curse, and not something like a sore throat every time one eats? The alter from kelm explains that the food in Gan Eden was a complete miracle. Adam was given everything he needed. Since Adam did not appreciate that, he will have to get food himself. Hashem took away the miracle and made man work for a living.


However, there is another way to explain this. The concept behind the story of the etz hadas was about listening to the command of hashem. Adam sinned and never listened to what hashem told him. The one area in life where we must now listen to hashem is parnassa since if we do not, we will not have parnassa. Hashem directly gives money if we listen to his commandments. A woman can give birth, but no person believes that she created the baby. The same is present with parnassah. Hishtadlus does not always bring parnassah; ordinarily, it is the opposite approach.


This is a direct lesson to learn from the etz hadas. Hashem is saying, "you, Adam, took what I never gave you, now you will only eat what I give you!" the best way to earn a living is by listening to the Torah and doing the mitzvahs.


R' Elya Lopian once asked a talmid, 'what do you do for a living'? The student answered, "I go to the diamond district and cut and polish diamonds."


"What do you do for a living?" again, R' Elya Lopian asked the question.


Confused, the talmid answered again, "I go to the diamond district and cut and polish diamonds."


When R' Elya Lopian realized the talmid did not understand the question, he explained, all that you told me is what hashem does for you for parnassa; however, what do "you" do to have this merit to make a living?


In benching we say 'nosein lechem lechol boso ki leolom chasdo, bechein obechesed overachamim'. What does this mean? Chein can mean respectably. Meaning, we do not have to be a garbage collector to earn a living. It could, however, mean something completely different. A person sometimes has tremendous qualities and capabilities, where people like him and respect him. This is the chein. However, we tell hashem we know it is all you; through you, hashem, we can get chein, chessed and rachamim to have parnassa.

It once happened that someone asked my grandfather, Rav Shmuel Dovid, 'your watch is very nice; where did you get it from?"


'I got it as a present' responded Rav Shuel Dovid.


His rebbetzin quickly piped in "a present? I remember when you bought it',


'Yes. That is how I got the present, a present from hashem." replied Rav Shmuel Dovid.

There is a different aspect of the nisayon of parnassa. This is how to view parnassa. We must know that hashem gives us the money, and therefore if we do not have money, it is he who took it away even if it appears that others encrypt on one's luck. They are not the ones who took it; instead, it is all from hashem. People grow quite resentful when it comes to others taking away business, but we must always remember that it is all from hashem!


(We must understand 'loy leidei matnas bosor vedom velo liydei halvosom, ki im leyadacha hamleya hapsucha hakdosho'.) However, what does this mean? Are we asking that it should not be a present? Do we get paranassa directly from the hands of hashem, or is it earned? Even the present we get, we should recognize that it comes from hashem. Often, we take parnassa that it is the boss that gives it. But we must remember that it comes directly from hashem and these people in between are just messengers. So, when people cheat, then we understand the loss is all from hashem!


THE TEST OF LIFE

Parshas Lech Lecha tells the life story of Avraham Avinu. A life of “nisyonos”, difficulties, hardships, trials, and tribulations.

I would like to make an observation. It is something that I noticed and pondered since my early childhood years, sitting in my Rebbe’s classroom as he taught us Chumash. All we read about Avraham Avinu, and for that matter, Yitzhak and Yaacov as well, is that they lived lives like everyone else of their time. And though it is clear that they were connected to HaShem in their lives, nowhere do we read or see that Avraham Avinu, Yitzhak, or Yaacov were Talmidai Chachamim of the highest level, who sat diligently learning Torah day and night. And though this is a fact evident in Chazal [see Yuma 28:B as is alluded to in Rashi sporadically], this is not the picture and the focal theme of the Torah about the lives of the Avos which the Torah speaks of to “set an example” as a role model for us, Klal Yisrael, their descendants, Ma’asei Avos Siman L’Banim. We are told, and the picture that we are given is that they lived lives of nisyonos, hardships, trials, and tribulations. Why not paint us a picture of the Avos sitting by a shtender in Yeshiva… as stated by Chazal about all the Avos that they were Zokain v’Yoshvai Yeshiva.

The answer may be that the Avos having learned Torah “Yomam V’Laila” isn’t a story. It’s not a chidush, it is a given to be self-understood. The sign of their greatness that is to be held up as a role model and emulated is how they lived their regular lives… what is life, to begin with… and how does a Jew go through life. Nisyonos HaChaim – the essence of life in this world.

The Mishna in Avos 5:3 tells us that Avraham Avinu experienced ten difficult tests in his life and withstood them all. Rambam enumerates the ten tests, beginning with Lech Lecha – where Avraham Avinu is asked to leave his homeland, birthplace, and his father’s home to the land yet unknown. Other Rishonim begin the list of the ten tests with the “episode” of Ur Kasdim where Avraham Avinu was thrown into a furnace of fire, by Nimrod for his rebellion against idol worship and his faith in HaShem. “Ur” means fire, referring and alluding to the miracle that happened to Avraham Avinu when he was thrown into the fire of Kasdim.

Rishonim (Even Ezra, Ramban, and Rabbeinu Yonah) question why this big episode and great sacrifice in Avraham’s life are not mentioned openly in the Torah. Why would the test of Or Kasdim not be counted and included in the “Ten Tests”?

Possibly, the sacrifice of one’s life for HaShem, His honor, or His Torah as a Jew does not measure up to the strength or devotion needed to live life daily as Jew, learning Torah and keeping all the Mitzvos in the face of life’s problems and situations, with all its worries and distractions. [The Rosh Yeshiva elaborated, pointing out that this answer does not work well with the opinion of the Pirkey D’R Eliezer (Chap. 26: 31), who actually counts one more test before Lech Lecha when Avraham was yet a child, and was forced to hide from Nimrod for thirteen years in a cave.]

The Beis Yosef once asked the “Maggid”, the malach who would come to teach him Torah, why HaShem never answered his prayer, granting his request to merit to die for Kiddush HaShem. The Maggid explained to him that he actually merited even more by “living” for Kiddush HaShem.

There are two Girsoyos – text. For the conclusion of the bracha of zichronos that we say on Rosh HaShana “v’akaidas Yitzhak Lezaro b’rachamin tizkor”, we are asking that the zchus of Yitzhak’s Akeida should be remembered - for us – Yitzhak’s descendants. But there is a second nusach- text, Lezora Shel Avraham b’rachamim tizkor, alluding to the zchus not being Yitzhak’s but Avraham Avinus. Based on the above, we can understand this. For Yitzhak, though he was ready to die al’Kiddush HaShem, Avraham Avinu was prepared to live on with this “sacrifice” of giving the life of his beloved son for HaShem. Living Kiddush HaShem day after day is a lot harder than being inspired to one’s jumping into a fire al’ Kiddush HaShem. People scream “Hashem Hu HaElokim” during Neila, which is beautiful. But the hard part is to live daily with the conscious experience of “Hashem Hu HaElokim” in light of all life’s problems and distractions.

[The Rosh Yeshiva elaborated here pointing to an answer by Tashbatz why the test of Ur Kasdim isn’t mentioned or counted by many opinions “because Avraham Avinu was still yet a child recently born. Passing the furnace test didn’t prove his love for HaShem.” It isn't easy to understand the answer of the Tashbatz. Because he was merely a child it wasn’t a test or a sacrifice on his part? The Rosh Yeshiva explained that “possibly” in light of the above we can explain that it is one thing to sacrifice - even one’s life - as a child, which could be a result of religious idealistic zeal. It’s another to sacrifice in life, on a daily basis, as an adult after maturing and understanding what is life and being exposed to the ways and wants of life…]

The Mesillas Yesharim, Chapter 1, clearly states that the goal of life in this world is to do Mitsvos and to be omaid b’nisoyon – withstand life’s tests. The question is, if so, why do we request every morning in shachris Al Tivyaniu Lo Lydai Nisyon- Do not bring us to be tested? [The Rosh Yeshiva elaborated to answer this question in many different ways.]

Rav Chaim Kanyevsky Shlita answers that we are requesting that we should not be given major, life-altering tests but tests that cause difficulty and distraction to learning Torah and doing Mitzvos must be part of one’s life and day. For this is the Tachlis HaChaim, to withstand all hardships and keep Torah and Mitzvos anyway.

This is exactly what we explained above. The Tachlis HaChaim is met when we overcome life’s daily situations that obstruct and hinder us, weighing us down from living inspired to learn, to daven, and to do Mitzvos.

Jews throughout the ages rose to the occasion to sacrifice their lives on a moment’s notice and on a moment of inspiration. And as Reb Chaim m’Volozhin explains, we as Jews, inherited this from our grandfather Yitzhak who was prepared to sacrifice his life for HaShem by the Akeida. But the true measure of a Jew’s loyalty and devotion to HaShem and His Torah is how he lives his daily life, day after day, every moment, through elevated good times – yom tovim, or down times – the days of “Mar” Cheshvan.

The Brisker Rav once overheard a person exulting the miracles of his Rebbe. The Brisker Rav told him, “I too do miracles. Would you like to hear what they are? Everyday I awake early… the same time every day… I wash netilat yadayim. I put my right foot into my right shoe, etc., tie my left shoe, etc., go to shul, daven, etc., learn… (enumerating his daily Seder HaYom). This I do every day, day after day, etc. That is the greatest feat, more difficult and more important than the greatest miracle one could do.”

How does one overcome life’s difficulties and daily distractions? Chazal and seforim are full of advice and guidance on this issue. Mainly, their ideas are about self-growth and maturity, to strengthen oneself in Emunah and Torah study.

Another point of advice stressed in seforim is to daven for Syata Dishmaya, for heavenly intervention and support to withstand all the difficulties. As the Sfas Emes explains, the words of the Mishna, “Asara Nisyonos Nisnaso Avraham Avinu V’Amad B’Kulum” which simply means he withstood the tests. But Amad also can have a connotation of Tefilah. [As it says V’Yamod Pinchas VaYipalel or El HaMakom Asher Amad Sham]. This may help us answer the above question and the interpretation of what we request “Al Tivayun Lo Lydai Nisayon”. It doesn’t say Lo L’Nisoyen but rather “Lydai Nisayon” to the hand – We are requesting Syata Dishmaya, strength and help, that we should not be delivered into the hand of the Nisayon, but on the contrary, the Nisayon should be in our hand. We should have the upper hand. We should be in control of the Nisayon and its Matzav, and not the reverse, that the Matzav should be in control of us.

A “word of advice” on how not to let the problem control us but on the contrary, that we should be in control, unfazed from all the daily distractions, can be learned from the words of the Chida in this week’s Parsha: Og, the giant who survived the flood, comes and tells Avraham the “Ivri” that Lot was captured. What is meant by Avraham “HaIvri” – and why here and now is he called “Ha-Ivri”?

The Chida says that though Chazal interpret the phrase “Ha-Ivri” as his being Me’Avor, on the opposite side of the peoples of the world who were all idol worshippers, we can still add a new interpretation as to why he was called an “Ivri”. It was to symbolize how he approached and tackled every problem and difficulty that life sent his way. “Ivri”: Gam Ze Yavor- It will all pass.

The Chida adds that “he heard” that Shlomo HaMelech had a ring on his finger with the words Gam Ze Yavor engraved on it to remind him to be strong and overcome everything because Gam Ze Yavor. It would seem that the point of Gam Ze Yavor is to “drill home” the idea that this world and all the happens in it will pass, that one day we will leave this world, and come to the next. Quite depressing a thought?!

Aruch L’Ner (end of Mesechet Sukkah) quotes a Medrash Plia that Iyov, the ultimate Bal Yesurim v’Nisyonos, complained to HaShem about his life and all his Tzaros. To comfort him, HaShem showed him a Sukkah. Aruch L’Ner explains that the Sukkah symbolizes that this world is simply “Aroiyi”.

With this message, HaShem intended to console Iyov over his worldly woes. But we must ask. Does this message really comfort one whose days are filled with problems and strife? “Don’t worry soon you will die, it will all end…” I believe the message and lesson of Gam Ze Yavor is more positive, constructive, and wisely insightful. It is to give the person the realization that all problems are ovrim, they pass with time. All we need is to be patient. This indeed is very good advice and quite the chizuk, focusing on the reality that nothing lasts. What you fear and distress will come to pass even more quickly than you can imagine.

A story about Rav Z. Margolis is told. Rav Margolis was a genius whose mind worked quickly. One day, the maid broke an expensive vase in the home. It was the only furniture the Margolis’s had in their home. The Rebbetzin was distraught, frantically bemoaning the broken vase. Rav Margolis remained unusually calm, not reacting whatsoever. The Rebbetzin turned to him and asked, “How can you keep quiet and calm. Don’t you realize the loss we sustained?” To which he responded, “I will answer you in six months.” A few weeks later, he turned to his Rebbetzin and reminded her of the vase. Still fresh in her mind, she let out a sigh of despair for the broken vase. Yet another few weeks passed, he turned to her, and he reminded her about the vase. Again, she let out a sigh of despair, except this time it was less intense and more reconciliatory. Every now and then, he would do the same. After 6 months, he turned to her and he said “Nu, the vase?” to which she responded “Eh, its fine. It should be a Kapara. It’s already in the past.” He exclaimed, “You see how you think now, some few months later. I, whose mind works quickly, reached this right away…

[1] The Mishnah in avos tells us 'Asarah Nisyonos Misnaseh Avraham Avinu. [2] ('Vayered Avraham Canano Ki Koveid Hrov Baraetz,')

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