"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, June 29, 2009

Different Kinds of Tests of Faith

Different Kinds of Tests of Faith

Rabbi Y. Oliver

Earlier I discussed the concept of a test of faith in our current context as Chabad chassidim. However, while we’re on the topic, let us digress to explain the idea of a test of faith in general.

We may not realize it, but we are often faced with tests of our faith in Hashem. Since “knowledge of the sickness is half the cure,”[1] being aware of this phenomenon and understanding how these tests may manifest themselves will surely provide us with a tremendous boost of strength in our struggle to overcome such tests.

The Tzemach Tzedek enumerates various types of tests,[2] and focuses on the test of faith, listing four different forms of this test:

A false prophet: This fellow works miracles and then seeks to entice the many to sin, declaring, “Let us go and worship other deities!”
[3] It is human nature for one’s judgment to be swayed by the influence of the idolatrous miracle worker, for his impact on the world is tangible. Thus, in order to overcome this influence a person must actively intensify his faith in Hashem, and consciously reject and dismiss the false prophet.

The prosperity of the wicked: Although one would think that divine justice should bring prosperity to the righteous and misery to the wicked, in reality sometimes the opposite is the case—Hashem grants the wicked success and prosperity in this world. He does this in order to test us. When the wicked arrogantly declare their superiority over others and defy Hashem, the observer of this pompous display of power must exert himself immensely to bolster his faith in order to remain completely undeterred from his devotion to Hashem and to Torah and Mitzvos.

The mon: The mon, the “bread from Heaven,” would fall daily for the Jews in the desert. However, they were required to finish eating the mon of each day before sunrise of the following day, although this meant that no food whatsoever would remain for the following morning. The only way they could bring themselves not to save some of the mon for the following day “just in case” was by arousing firm faith in Hashem that the mon would fall again the next morning.

Akeidas (the Binding of) Yitzchak (also known as 
The Akeidah”): Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok asks: At first glance, the main one tested in the Akeidah was Yitzchak, for he was the one to be giving up his life al kiddush Hashem (in order to sanctify Hashem’s Name). But if so, why does the Torah state[4] that Hashem meant to test Avraham, while omitting any mention of it being a test for Yitzchak?

Reb Menachem Mendel answers that although it is indeed a tremendous Mitzvah to give up one’s life, it is unremarkable in the annals of Jewish history. Even the most unlettered and “ordinary” Jews would surrender their lives al kiddush Hashem. Thus, as great a Mitzvah as it is, this test is considered trivial for someone of the spiritual stature of Yitzchak, who, as one of our forefathers, was likened to Hashem’s “chariot,”[5] for he served as a vehicle for the Sephirah (divine trait) of strictness.

Rather, at the
Akeidah the main one tested was Avraham. It was a test of faith to see whether he would doubt Hashem’s words. Avraham had been assured by Hashem that “Your seed will be called through Yitzchak,”
[6] i.e., Yitzchak (and not Yishma’el) would father a great nation—the Jewish people. However, Avraham could have asked a very glaring question: At the time that Hashem commanded Avraham to offer up Yitzchak as a sacrifice, Yitzchak was still single, and if Yitzchak would die now, how could he possibly father the nation which Hashem had promised would be born from Avraham? Moreover, isn’t Hashem eternal and unchanging, as Hashem declares: “I have not changed,”[7] implying that He does not change His mind?

Yet Avraham paid no attention to these altogether logical questions. Instead, he dismissed them totally from his consciousness, and believed with pure and simple faith that if this is what
Hashem was commanding him to do now, it was surely the right thing to do. Passing this test was remarkable even for someone of Avraham’s stature.

Each of the above examples adds understanding to the concept of a test of faith.

  • Both the tests from the false prophet and from the prosperity of the wicked involve external adversaries to Hashem whose success and power is liable to shake one’s faith; the test is then to disregard these external phenomena by reminding oneself of the true, inner reality of divine omnipotence.
  • The test of the mon, however, involved Hashem’s demand that the Jewish people disregard the regular nature of the world due to a specific divine promise.
  • The test of the Akeidah involved accepting Hashem’s words even when there was a logical discrepancy with His earlier statements. This would require simple faith that even though I don’t understand how, Hashem surely knows best and is doing what is right, and hopefully with time, my personal question on His ways and instructions will be answered as well.
It should be noted that a test of faith could involve thought alone—e.g., harboring doubts in Hashem’s justice when one witnesses the prosperity of the wicked; it could involve thought and speech—e.g., expressing words of doubt in Hashem due to observing the miracle performed by a false prophet; or it could involve thought, speech, and action—e.g., clinging to the mon of the previous day due to doubt whether the mon would fall the following day.

On a similar note, a test of faith could involve a large-scale event, e.g., despite witnessing the success of the wicked on 9/11, our faith in
Hashem does not waver. Or on a very small scale, one
’s faith could be tested by his missing the bus and arriving late, in which case Hashem is testing to see whether one will accept this turn of events with equanimity, as a purposeful divine intervention, or become irritated, as if it were a matter of chance.

In any case, the common denominator in all these examples is that a test of faith involves disregarding the immediate reality in which one lives, and reminding oneself of the true, inner reality that
Hashem reveals to us via the Torah, and that the whole reason that Hashem is creating these circumstances in the first place is in order to test our faith in Him.

[1] Cf. Sefer HaSichos 5703 p. 18
[2] Derech Mitzvosecha pp. 370-372.
[3] Devarim 13:3.
[4] Bereishis 22:1.
[5] Bereishis Rabba 47:6
[6] Bereishis 21:12.
[7] Malachi 3:6.

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