From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Learning from Avraham to Follow Hashem’s Instructions Through Life, Without Knowing the Exact End Game, and the Benefits that this May Bring
This Shabbat we read the command, which Hashem gave Avram, “Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (Bereishit 12:1).
We should be aware that Avram our father was no youngster, rather he was 75 years old, venturing into the unknown. Moreover, he was not alone, his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, together with all his belongings, “as well as the people they had gathered in Charan” (Bereishit 12:5), were all travelling into the unknown, “to the land that I will show you”.
It is astonishing, why did Hashem not reveal to Avram from the outset the place’s identity? It is difficult enough to leave, his fixed abode, birthplace, his friends and to what he is accustomed to, and additionally, to travel to an unidentified place. This is exceedingly challenging and is compounded when the person is not travelling alone but with responsibility for so many others too. So, why not make it more bearable and reveal the location?
This question is raised in the Yalkut Shimoni where it states, “And why didn’t He reveal it to him? In order to make it special for him and to reward him for every step”. This means that it is incomparable when a person knows the purpose of what is required from them, in contradistinction to a person who doesn’t know the purpose of what is being asked of them. The difference between these two scenarios is as far as the heavens and earth are apart. Likewise, their rewards are comparable based on the enormity of the test.
For sure Hashem could have revealed to Avram his destination but then it would have been an easier test and in turn, his reward much less. In contrast, when Avram didn’t know his destination, it was a much harder test and as such, his reward was immeasurably greater.
Therefore, Avram never asked where he was travelling to, but rather “and Avram went as Hashem had directed him” (12:4) and so Hashem assured him, “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (12:2-3).
It has happened more than once that when we come to follow the paths of the Torah and to be G-d-fearing that we face a test, that we stumble at the hurdles or doubt ourselves, unable to decide what to do or unsure of what the end will be. For example, our workplace isn’t quite right, what education to give our children and similar examples. We must know that this is person’s test and a person’s task is to do just what the Torah requires according to the halachah. Even though it is murky to us what the outcome may be. This is the essence of the concept “to the land that I will show you”. But if we fulfil the concept “as Hashem directed him,” then we are assured that “you shall become a blessing”.
This teaches us that it’s not what we think should be done to succeed but rather that the blessing may only be found in Hashem’s hand.
It is related that a shamash of a Bet Kenesset served in a stellar way even though he was illiterate. After some time, the parnasim decided that the Bet Kenesset must provide written reports and so the shamash must learn to read and write. Otherwise, he will be fired. The shamash who was no youngster attempted to learn these new skills but was unsuccessful, and under great duress had to leave relinquish his role.
Some time passed and he turned his hand to the timber trade. After some time, he was incredibly successful and was the largest timber merchant in the area. One day he was closing a huge deal with the trade secretary of another country. When he signed the contract, he signed with his fingerprint. The trade secretary was in shock and asked how this was possible. “You are the largest timber merchant, and yet you are illiterate?” The trader smiled and said, “If I knew how to read and write I would still just be the shamash of the synagogue!”