(Torah Portion Vayairah) Excelling for More
Our forefather Avraham recognized and became convinced that there is a Creator and that He is involved in all aspects of our lives. There is a dispute in the Talmud as to Avraham’s age at the time. One opinion states he was three years old and the other says he was 48 years old. Be that as it may, they all agree that Avraham was the father of the Monotheistic belief in G-d. To be given this great title, Avraham’s total devotion and faith in G-d was tested ten times, and Avraham passed them all.
As we will see, besides the tests that showed that Avraham was totally committed and loyal to the Almighty, his sterling character, his non-judgmental approach, and his yearning and self motivation for more connectivity to G-d, set him apart to become our primary example and we attempt to emulate his esteemed ways.
The wicked King Nimrod gave Avraham an ultimatum; either you accept idolatry or you will be cast into a fiery furnace. Avraham chose to remain committed to G-d and was flung into a massive furnace. The ropes restraining him burned off and he walked out of the furnace unscathed and unharmed. This public event convinced many to believe in G-d and placed Avraham in a highly respected and honored position.
After this, G-d instructed Avraham to leave the comforts of his home and travel to an unnamed land. Without second guessing G-d, Avraham picked up and left.
Twice, Avraham was challenged when his beautiful wife Sarah was kidnapped by two kings, first by the Pharoh of Egypt and a second time by Avimelech the king of the Philistines. Both times Avraham retained his trust in G-d and Sarah was returned without any harm befalling her.
Avraham cared for his orphaned nephew Lot, and because of Lot’s character faults G-d did not communicate with Avraham while Lot was with him. Nevertheless, Avraham did not ask Lot to leave until he was forced to do so. Even when Avraham heard that Lot was captured during an intense war involving many kings, he risked his life to save his nephew Lot.
When G-d informed Avraham that he was going to destroy the cities of Sedom and Amorah because they were cruel, merciless and awful, Avraham pleaded extensively on their behalf, even though they were the antithesis of the Chesed ideals of Avraham.
Avraham’s final test was the binding of his son Yitzchok. After Avraham had been promised by G-d that through his son Yitzchok his future would develop, G-d instructed Avraham to offer Yitzchok upon an altar. Without questioning G-d and with great devotion, Avraham listened and was about to slaughter his son. At that point, an angel called out from Heaven instructing him to stop. This episode showed his total devotion to G-d.
Generally speaking, when we reach the apex of a career, actualize an accomplishment, or contribute handsomely to something, one could have a feeling of smugness and our motivation to continue may become diminished. However, as Rabbi Moshe Hillel Hirsh points out, after Avraham reached the zenith of his spiritual accomplishment after the test of the binding of Yitzchok, the Torah tells us that immediately, “Avraham looked up and saw a ram with its horns caught in the thicket, and Avraham offered the ram as a sacrifice to G-d.” Avraham did not rest on his laurels. Rather, he strove and yearned for continued growth and connection to G-d. G-d recognized this and appreciated it as we see that He issued a blessing to Avraham only after he continued climbing the ladder of spirituality.
We may think that after this experience Avraham’s head would be in the clouds and he would not be able to relate to those who hadn’t experienced what he and Yitzchok just went through. However, the Torah relates that “Avraham returned to the two people (Yishmael and Eliezer,) waiting for him, and they returned home together.’ Our Sages point out the word together connotes that Avraham did not feel conceited over his spiritual growth. Rather he felt he was on the same level as everyone else.
We can imagine that Avraham yearned to reunite with his wife Sarah after such an episode. However, when he returned he found out that Sarah passed away.
At this point a regular person’s nerves would certainly be shot. Yet we are told in next week’s Parsha that Avraham had to negotiate a price for a burial spot for Sarah. At first it was offered to him for free, but in the end he was charged what we would call a rip off price of – 400 silver coins. The Torah describes a cool mannered and respectful Avraham during this entire negotiation process.
This is who our forefather Avraham was – always devoted to G-d; always in control of his emotions; and always looking for opportunities of spiritual growth. These exemplary qualities were passed on to us to tap into at any time.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks