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The Biggest Challenge

Chumash Bereishis is also known as Sefer HaYashar – the Book of the Upright. This is because one of the primary aims of studying it is to learn from the ways of the Yesharim, the Righteous Ones that we learn about within it. Thus, we are challenged to emulate the sterling behavior of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Sorah, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah, and many others. There are many nisyonos, tests, in Chumash Bereishis and they are model lessons for mankind on how to correctly navigate the trials and challenges that Hashem places before us during the course of our lifetime. I would like to pose a fascinating question to my dear readership. This query has given me a chance for delightful Torah speculation and I hope it will do so for you and your families as well. What was the biggest nisayon that was faced by a Torah giant in Chumash Bereishis? Wait, you say, that’s a ‘no brainer!’ The Akeidas Yitzchak! Avraham Avinu was being asked to sacrifice – after waiting 100 years to have him – his only child from Sorah! This was the child upon whom all of Klal Yisroel’s fate rested. Avraham Avinu was also being asked to become the ultimate hypocrite, after preaching a lifetime about kindness and human rights – to slaughter his son would be the undoing of a lifetime campaign. It would also be putting at risk his wife’s health and, indeed, she did not survive the shock of the Akeida. But, are you sure this is the biggest test? What about Chava? Faced by the wily serpent, tempted with the most forbidden of knowledge? What about Rochel Imeinu who met the challenge to give over secret codes to her sister Leah so that she shouldn’t be embarrassed on her wedding night? In the process, Rochel risked losing her husband, the love of her life, perhaps forfeiting becoming a Mother of Yisroel, and maybe even falling into the lot of Eisav. What about Yoseif HaTzadik, who, in the position of Viceroy could have wreaked vengeance against the brothers who lowered him naked into a pit of snakes and scorpions and forced him to lose twenty-two years of happy home life with his beloved family? Or, maybe it was Yoseif who was repeatedly tempted by the so beautiful temptress, the wife of Potifar? Or, could it be the fact that Yoseif had the strength not to send a message to Yaakov that he was still alive even though he must have desperately wanted to spare his saintly father anguish? But he passed this test too, loyally waiting to fulfill the prophecy of his dreams. Maybe it was the challenge of “Lech Lecha,” when Avraham Avinu was asked to give up all that was familiar, his land, his parents, his surroundings; the challenge of total change? Indeed, this is one of life’s most gut-wrenching challenges! Maybe, surprisingly, it was Lot, who, after spending an entire night with Hashem’s angels trying to save hundreds of thousands of people in S’dom, and who was willing to give his own daughters (perhaps with their consent) to the wild mob, rather than have them attack the angels and doom five cities to “nuclear destruction”? This query is not merely Biblical “Trivial Pursuit.” Rather, the study of the multiple tests in Chumash Bereishis is a vital educational course in guiding us on how to succeed in life as a Torah Jew. The Gemora teaches us in Masechtas Berachos, “L’olam yargiz adom yeitzer tov al yeitzer hara – A person should always incite his good inclination against his evil one.” In other words: There is a constant tension and battle in one’s life between the tests put before us by the yeitzer hara and our spiritual strength to overcome these numerous temptations. Furthermore, we are taught in Pirkei Avos, “Al taamin b’aztzm’cha ad yom mosecha – Do not trust yourself until the day that you die.” This is because as soon as we prevail successfully over one scheme of the yeitzer hara, he promptly presents another challenge to us. For this is the continuous duty of the Torah Jew – to live by the credo of “HaChaim v’hamoves nasati lefonecha – u’vacharta b’chaim – Life and death I have put before you – make sure that you choose life.” It is the study of Bereishis that gives us the spiritual wisdom to recognize the many tests of life and guide us on how to successfully pass them. Thus, Yaakov’s blessing to Reuven educates us on not acting in haste, for, “Pachaz kamayim al tosar – If you are hasty like water, you will not excel.” His comments to Shimon and Levi warn us to cultivate a strong avoidance of anger for, “Orur apom ki az v’evrosom ki koshosah – Cursed in anger for it is strong and wrath, for it is fierce.” The story of S’dom teaches us about the ugliness of being miserly and selfish. And, the list goes on! My humble opinion as to which is the biggest test in Chumash Bereishis is that it concerns the Torah personality Tamar. We must understand that Tamar already had suffered the loss of two husbands because of the deaths of Er and Onan. She desperately wanted to have children but Yehudah held back Sheilah from marrying her. Then Tamar manufactured a deceptive tryst with Yehudah in order to fulfill the ancient biblical mitzvah of geula, familial redemption. When she subsequently became pregnant, being a daughter of a Kohein, Yehudah, the leader of the tribes, and unaware that she was pregnant legally from him, condemned her to be executed by burning: The painful death specifically ordered for a daughter of a Kohein who brings dishonor on the priesthood. Having protected herself by keeping Yehudah’s staff and signet ring, she could have easily saved her life. She had all the more reason to do so since she was pregnant with two healthy twins. Yet she kept her silence preferring to horrifically die with her unborn babes, rather than publicly embarrass Yehudah. This challenge is unimaginable. She was willing to die in disgrace in a most horrifying way, together with her unborn twins who she had desperately waited for – all to save Yehudah from some shame?! I believe this lesson – which serves throughout the ages as the biblical role model for the Talmudic dictum, “Moach lo l’adam sheyatzil leatzmo l’kivshon ha-eish mil lihaldin es chaveiro b’rabim – It should be easier for a person to cast himself into a furnace of fire rather that to embarrass someone publicly,” is the single biggest test in all of Chumash Bereishis. I would like to conclude this discussion with one more fundamental thought about tests. As we said, life is a series of tests. Yet, every day we ask Hashem in our morning blessings, “Al tivi’einu lo lidei nisayon – Do not bring us into any situation of challenge.” What kind of a request is this? Isn’t that defeating the purpose of life? The answer is that we are requesting from Hashem to allow us to make our own challenges. We will constantly strive to daven with more concentration; to be more sweet and attentive to our spouses, to spend more time learning; to be more charitable, in that way we are prospering in our spiritual growth without needing the Divine intervention of external challenges. May Hashem help us in this pursuit and in that merit, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.