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TRAILBLAZER

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Our rabbis tell us that Hashem administered ten tests to Abraham throughout his life to give him the opportunity to prove his faith.

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Our rabbis tell us that Hashem administered ten tests to Abraham throughout his life to give him the opportunity to prove his faith. From the command at the beginning of this week's Torah portion to leave his family and homeland, to the Akeidah at the end of next week's portion when he is asked to sacrifice his own son, we can easily comprehend why these are considered to be challenging ordeals. Most of us have never been faced with such circumstances and can hardly imagine that we would ever be able to pass such tests. How great must Abraham have been that he was able to stand up to such intense divine scrutiny!

However, in this week's Torah portion we read about Abraham's circumcision, his performance of the beloved mitzvah of brit milah which is also counted among the ten tests. This mitzvah is one which truly distinguishes the Jewish people from the nations of the world, one which has been performed with great joy by Abraham's descendants, millions upon millions of times throughout history. For that reason, it seems difficult to understand why such an action would be considered a trial, especially for a great person like Abraham. Granted that it may have been physically challenging, but we are talking about somebody who had already shown that he was willing to give up his life for Hashem, as was clear from his successful completion of the earlier tests. How could the test of brit milah pose a challenge to someone of Abraham's stature?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a great Torah scholar and leader of the past generation, explains that to understand why this was an appropriate test, we must first analyze Abraham's career and approach to life up until this point. We know that he was a master at influencing other people to come closer to Hashem and to recognize the purpose of Creation. Abraham was an outgoing person who had totally dedicated his life to helping others, even at the expense of his own personal growth. He epitomized the attribute of chesed, loving kindness, and he used that trait in fulfilling his mission. However, his success was all made possible by his being somewhat similar to the people whom he was trying to influence.

The mitzvah of brit milah, however, was a command to Abraham and his descendants to become totally different and separated from the rest of the world, something which would seemingly place a significant restraint on their ability to influence other people. Hashem was asking Abraham to redirect his efforts from a strategy which had been highly successful, to embark on an unfamiliar path whereby he and his descendants would indirectly serve as a guiding light to the rest of the nations. In effect, Abraham was being asked to subjugate his own will to that of Hashem's. Brit milah, therefore, was not merely a test of Abraham's physical dedication; it represented a struggle which shook the foundations of his perspective on life.

The Ramban, a classic Medieval commentator, tells us a general rule that the actions of our forefathers are a sign for their children (ma'ase avot siman l'banim), meaning that everything which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did so many years ago served to instill their superior character traits into the lifeblood of the Jewish people. When Abraham followed Hashem's command, even though the request appeared to be illogical and counterproductive, he enabled every one of his descendants to make that same decision. When Abraham stood up against the ridicule of the world which must of thought that he was out of his mind, he set a precedent which has been followed over countless generations in countless places all over the world. Let us aspire to fulfill the great potential which Abraham instilled within us.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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