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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Ten Tests of Avraham

Posted by rabbiart on November 1, 2008

PIrkei Avot 5:4 (5:3 in some editions) proclaims that Avraham successfully withstood ten tests, but does not specify what they are. Maimonides – who often seeks to organize the tradition – lists a version of the ten tests, complete with supporting verses of the Torah.

  1. לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ  Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house to a place I will show you. (Breshit 12:1)
  2. וַיְהִי רָעָב, בָּאָרֶץ There was a famine in the land. (Breshit 12:10)
  3. וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתָהּ שָׂרֵי פַרְעֹה, וַיְהַלְלוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה; וַתֻּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה, בֵּית פַּרְעֹה Pharoah’s princes saw Sarah, praised her to Pharoah; she was taken into Pharoah’s house. (Breshit 12:15)
  4. וַיֵּחָלֵק עֲלֵיהֶם לַיְלָה הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו, וַיַּכֵּם; וַיִּרְדְּפֵם  He deployed his forces against them (the four kings), and struck them, and chased them. (Breshit 14:15)
  5. בֹּא-נָא אֶל-שִׁפְחָתִי, אוּלַי אִבָּנֶה מִמֶּנָּה  Enter into my handmaid, perhaps I will be built up through her. (Breshit 15:2)
  6. וּנְמַלְתֶּם, אֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלַתְכֶם; וְהָיָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, it will be a sign of the covenant. (Breshit 17:11)
  7. וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ גְּרָר, וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-שָׂרָה  Avimelech King of Gerar took Sarah (Breshit 20:2)
  8. גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ  Cast out this bondwoman and her son (Breshit 21:2)
  9. וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד, בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם, עַל, אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ  The matter was very grievous to Avraham on account of his son. (Breshit 21:11)
  10. וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק  Take your son, your only som , whom you love, i.e. Isaac. (Breshit 22:2)

RMBM is not the only rabbinic authority who specifies the ten tests. Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura also has a version.  In his version, the first test is Nimrod throwing Avraham into the furnace. Since this episode is not present in the Torah, RMBM does not count it, because he generally relies only on what is written.

The accepted tradition is that Avraham passed all ten of his tests, but what constitutes a passing score?  According to Rashi, it is because none of the tests caused Avraham to question HaShem. Good thing that the negotiations over the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah aren’t included in the tests, or Rashi would have to give Avraham a failing grade.

Regardless of which version of the tests we follow, we can see the beginning of the concept of zchut avot – the merit of our ancestors. As Jewish history develops and begins to unfold, HaShem hearkens back to what Avraham had done and earned.  We see this also in Rashi’s comment on what it means for nations to be blessed through Avraham and his descendants.

On Breshit 12: 3 (I will bless those who bless you) Rashi says
“There are many aggadoth, but this is its simple meaning: A man says to his son, May you be like Abraham. And so is every instance of [the words] “shall be blessed with you” in Scripture. And the following [text] proves this (below 48:20):“With you, Israel shall bless, saying: May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.” – [from Sifrei, Naso 18]”

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