THE POT'S POTENTIAL
Rabbi David Kapenstein
At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, we learn about the difficulty that Abraham experienced in purchasing a proper burial site for his beloved wife Sarah.
At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, we learn about the difficulty that Abraham experienced in purchasing a proper burial site for his beloved wife Sarah. Abraham needed to bargain with Ephron, who at first offered the plot at no charge and then later procured a hefty price for the land. In fact, Abraham could have rightfully taken the field at no charge at all, since G-d promised this land to him many years before. Nevertheless, Abraham withstood the pressures and paid in full for the land.
This was not the first test that G-d had given to Abraham. In all, Abraham was given ten tests, the last of which was to demonstrate his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice at the end of last week's portion. Having triumphed over each of the ten trials, Abraham emerged humbled, yet confident that his son would now begin to take over the leadership of belief in one G-d that Abraham had worked so hard to promulgate throughout his life.
Surely, Abraham was greatly saddened to hear that his wife and life-long companion died. According to the Midrash, Sarah died of shock when she heard that her son Isaac had been taken to Mt. Moriah to be sacrificed. Undoubtedly, one of Abraham's greatest joys would have been to share with Sarah the knowledge that their son had been sanctified through his selfless devotion to G-d.
It behooves us, therefore, to spend a moment reflecting on the purpose of Abraham's tests. Moreover, what is the purpose of any test that G-d gives Abraham, or us for that matter? Rashi, the classic 11th century commentator on the Torah, suggests that when Hashem gives a test to someone, it can be likened to a potter who, when removing his work from the kiln, taps the pot to be certain of its strength. Rashi points out that the potter will certainly only tap the pots which he believes are strong enough to withstand the pressure. Thus, like the potter, Hashem only gives us tests which we are capable of passing, for to do otherwise could only cause us to crumble.
To draw the analogy a step further, it can be asserted that the test further serves the purpose of demonstrating that the pot has latent strengths that were hereto unknown. Hence, when G-d tests us, it is at least in part to bring into fruition an ability that we have, but have not yet used to its fullest potential. This may be for our direct benefit, or for the benefit of those who observe us (as was discussed in the "Think Tank" section two weeks ago).
When we read about the tests that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we observe how under the most trying of circumstances they succeeded in demonstrating their complete faith in G-d. This, our sages tell us, benefits us as well. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs formed the spiritual genes for our nation. Thus, the tests that they passed engraved in every future Jewish soul the ability to also pass those same tests. If Abraham was willing to risk his life by being thrown into a fiery furnace rather than worship idols, then this strength of faith exists in us as well. It became part of our nature because Abraham perfected this characteristic.
Clearly, we do not ask Hashem to give us tests. In fact, part of our daily prayers asks specifically that we not be tested in ways that we cannot withstand. Nonetheless, all of us understand that we go through life being challenged by one obstacle or another. Let us always be mindful that these obstacles are meant to help us grow in our service of the Almighty. Furthermore, not only are these tests designed to demonstrate to us that we have more capabilities than we know, but also that G-d never gives us more that we can withstand.
Rabbi David Kapenstein is the Director of Development at the Torah Day School of Atlanta.
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