To show further that the nisyonos of Avraham Avinu were focused and centered on his developing the ultimate in emunah and bitachon, let me quote the Chovos Halevavos in Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh, number 27:
“…And realize, that regarding the ten tests of Avraham Avinu which Hakadosh Boruch Hu tested him with — we would not praise Avraham’s “passing” of the tests if not for the fact that he accepted all that transpired with complete will and with a joyful heart (at the thought of being able to selflessly perform and uphold the will of the Almighty), as the possuk says (in Sefer Nechemya 9:8), ‘And You have found his heart to be loyal to you…’ And the reason we condemn and find fault with the actions of the Jews who left Egypt is because of their constant complaining about Hashem…”
Amazing! And this explicitly states the point — the central point of Judaism is emunah. And the “father” of our nation is Avraham Avinu. Thus, he was tested in his emunah in ten ways, in ten areas, each successively more difficult, to produce a nation which would have the innate ability to accept Hashem’s will uncomplainingly and, ideally, b’simchah. Not, so to speak, the action — but the attitude!
But why do we have nisyonos at all? The word implies that my life would not “ordinarily” have contained this event, or these series of events; that it or they are a “special delivery” from Hashem. But for what purpose? What will be shown, what will be proven — and for whom?
(Of course, one may simply point to the Mesilas Yesharim and Derech Hashem cited back in Part One and Two of this series, and say that all of life is a nisayon, that there is no such thing as a “special” event, that everything that occurs is simply what I am supposed to accomplish in my life. While that certainly may be true in one’s life, and without the aid of an actual navi we surely do not know that whatever is happening in our lives is a specially “manufactured” nisayon, the fact remains that we see in the Torah, in Tanach, and in the words of Chazal, that the concept of a uniquely directed, extraordinary, nisayon definitely does exist.)
One approach is to see in the word nisayon the root nes, meaning flag or pennant, waving high, as a sign. Ramban writes (Bereishis 22:1) that the point of a nisayon is to actualize the potential of the menuseh (the one being tested)… that Hakadosh Boruch Hu does not reward a person for that which he or she wishes to do, would like to do, is capable of doing. Rather, since this world is the olam hama’aseh (the physical world of action), Hakadosh Boruch Hu “tests” a person in order to allow their will to do, their ability to do, to materialize in reality, in an action, thus enabling a reward for a good deed, as opposed to good intentions. Thus, Hashem tests only the righteous, for this very purpose, with Hashem “knowing” the outcome, for the benefit of the menuseh, while Hashem will not test the wicked, who would indeed be unable to pass his test.
Another approach is to see nisayon as an actualization of potential, but in a different sense. Not merely to make real qualities which already exist, but to actualize heretofore unknown and dormant kochos. The person being tested rises to the occasion, and thus the test is a stimulus to a growth process, allowing the person to actually develop through the nisayon. “I didn’t realize I had it in me to control myself in such a situation… I didn’t believe I would be able to withstand that temptation… I am really happy that I am capable of such calm acceptance of Hashem’s will.” And thus the nisayon is an instrument of actual improvement and spiritual maturation.
A third approach is stated by Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim and by Rabbeinu Bachya, that the purpose of a nisayon is to publicize, to broadcast, so to speak, the qualities of the person being tested, in order that others know of the person’s righteousness, goodness, and devotion. It is actually a chinuch instrument, that there be a role model for people to emulate; that people learn that it is possible to reach certain heights in avodas Hashem: yes, it can be done and if he or she can do it, then it is quite possible that I can as well. Don’t say it can’t be done — look over there, he did it, she did it.
Another approach is similar, but sees in the “advertising” not so much a chinuch opportunity but simply to let people know of the virtue of the person who up till now was an unknown. It is a way for a neighborhood, a city, a country, to find out who and what this person is really all about, why he or she is worthy of honor and deserves the public’s esteem.
Sometimes a nisayon is consigned to a person simply as a way of increaing his olam haba. This may also sometimes be presented as yissurin shel ahavah, where Chazal tell us there is actually a concept of a person being placed in an “undeserved” situation, where Hakadosh Boruch Hu assumes he or she will rise to the occasion and reap the extra reward in olam haba for this unusual display of fealty to the Creator.
Not always is adversity a nisayon; the possuk in Parshas Hamon states that Hashem will give the Jews their daily bread through the miraculous mon ”in order that I test them to see if they walk in my ways or not” (Shemos 16:4). And so a person can be granted a life of ease, with no problems, with nothing seemingly going wrong or even difficult about one’s life —and that, ironically turns out to be the greatest nisayon of all. Will you walk in My ways, or will you fall prey to “vayishman Yeshurun vayiv’at” (and Yisroel grew fat, and rebelled), that is, the unfortunate reality that comfort and the good life tend to lead people away from awareness, and appreciation, of Hashem.
We daven every day “and bring me not to a nisayon.” We are afraid of failure, afraid of not living up to potential, afraid of not living up to Hashem’s, or our own, expectations.
Yet, as we have seen in this series, it is perhaps the unique engine of growth in a person’s life. May we pass all the nisyonos that we are sent.