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Testing Abraham

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

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Numbers 14: 22 - 23
22 “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.
Mishnah Abot 5:3
With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all--in order to make known how great was our father Abraham`s love [for G-d].
Abot de Rabbi Natan 33:2
With ten trials was Abraham our father tried before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in all of them he was found steadfast, to wit:
Twice, when ordered to move on;
Twice, in connection with his two sons;
Twice, in connection with his two wives;
Once, on the occasion of his war with the kings;
Once, at the (covenant) between the pieces;
Once, in Ur of the Chaldess;
And once, at the covenant of circumcision. 
Now, what was the reason for all this? So that when Abraham our father comes to take his reward, the peoples of the world shall say, “More than all of us, more than everyone, is Abraham worthy of getting his reward!” And it is of him that Scriptures says, Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted thy works (Eccl. 9:7)
Rambam on Mishnah Abot 5:3
The ten trials with which Abraham our father was tried are all stated in Scripture. The first, that of being a stranger, when the One to be blessed said, …betake yourself out of your country….. The second, the famine that existed in the land of Canaan, when he came there and He had promised him …and I will make you into a great nation…. This is a great trial, as it said, And there was a famine in the land…. The third, the wrong perpetrated upon him by the Egyptians when Sarah was taken to Pharaoh. The fourth, his warring with the four kings. The fifth, his taking Hagar for a wife after he despaired of begetting through Sarah. The sixth is circumcision, concerning which he was commanded in the period of old age. The seventh, the wrong perpetrated upon him by the king of Gerar when he, too, took Sarah. The eight, the banishment of Hagar after he had begotten a son through her. The ninth, the removal of his son Ishmael, and the One to be blessed said …let it not be grievous in your sight because of the lad…, and Scripture had attested how difficult this matter was in his sight when it state, And the matter was very grievous in Abraham’s sight…. However, he kept the commandment of the Lord, may he be blessed, and banished them. The tenth, the binding of Isaac.
Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 26 Our father Abraham was tried with ten trials, and he stood firm in them all. The first trial was when our father Abraham was born; all the magnates of the kingdom and the magicians sought to kill him, and he was hidden under the earth for thirteen years without seeing sun or moon. After thirteen years he went forth from beneath the earth, speaking the holy language; and he despised idols and held in abomination the graven images, and he trusted in the name of his Creator, and said: Blessed is the man who trusts in thee (Ps. 84:12).
The second trial was when he was put into prison for ten years-three years in Kuthi, seven years in Budri. After 6 ten years they sent and brought him forth and cast him into the furnace of fire, and the King of Glory put forth His right hand and delivered him from the furnace of fire, as it is said, And he said to him, I am the Lord who brought thee out of the furnace of the Chaldees (Gen. 15:7)...
The third trial was his migration from his father`s house and from the land of his birth; and He brought him to Haran, and there his father Terah died, and Athrai his mother. Migration is, harder for man than for any other creature. Whence do we know of his migration? Because it is said, Now the Lord said unto Abram, Go forth (Gen. 12:1).
The fourth trial (was the famine). From the day when the heavens and the earth were created, the Holy One, blessed be He, had not brought into the world a famine but only in the days of Abraham, and not in any of the lands but only in the land of Canaan, in order to try him and to bring him down into Egypt, thus it is said, And there was a famine in the land, and: Abram went down into Egypt (Gen 12:10).            
The fifth trial was when Sarah his wife was taken to Pharaoh to be (his) wife. And is there any man, who seeing his wife taken away to another man, would not rend his garments? But (he trusted in the Holy One, blessed be He,) that he would not approach her. Whence do we know that Sarah was taken to Pharaoh to be his wife? Because it is said, And the princes of Pharaoh saw her…
The sixth trial was (when) all the kings came against him to slay him. They said: Let us first begin with the house of his brother, and afterwards let us begin with him. On account of Lot they took all (the wealth of) Sodom and Gomorrah, as it is said, And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 14:11). Afterwards they took Lot captive, and all his wealth, as it is said, And they took Lot ... and, his goods (ibid. 12).
The seventh trial (was as follows): After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying (Gen.15:1). To all the prophets He was revealed in a vision, but to Abraham He was revealed in a revelation and in a vision…
The eighth trial (was as follows): And when Abram was ninety-nine years old (Gen17:1) the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Until now you have not been perfect before Me; but circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and walk before me, and be perfect  (ibid.)...because the foreskin is more unclean than all unclean things, as it is said, For henceforth there shall no more come into you the uncir­cumcised and the unclean (Isa.52:1)…
The ninth trial (was as follows): Ishmael was born with (the prophecy of the) bow, and he grew up with the bow, as it is said, And God was with the lad, and he grew ...and he became an archer (Gen. 21:20). He took bow and arrows and began to shoot at the birds. He saw Isaac sitting by himself, and he shot an arrow at him to slay him. Sarah saw (this), and told Abraham. She said to him: Thus and thus has Ishmael done to Isaac, but (now) arise and write (a will in favor) of Isaac, (giving him) all that the Holy One has sworn to give to thee and to thy seed. The son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac, as it is said, And she said to Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son (ibid. 10).
The tenth trial was (as follows): And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham (Gen 22:1). He tried Abraham each time in order to know His heart, whether he would be able to persevere and keep all the commandments of the Torah or not, and whilst as yet the Torah had not been given, Abraham kept all the precepts of the Torah, as it is said, Because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my Torah (ibid.24:5).
Midrash Tehilim 18
Another comment: The verse beginning As for God, His way is perfect, alludes to our father Abraham. For the Holy One, blessed be He, upon seeing that Abraham followed Him, chose Abraham and said to him, I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou perfect (Gen 17;1). The word of the Lord is tried (Ps 18:31b) thus refers to Abraham, whom the Lord proved in ten trials as follows: 
once, in a furnace of fire, of which God said: I am the Lord that brought thee out of the fire of the Chaldees (Gen 15:7);
once again, when God said: Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred (Gen 12:1);
twice, when Sarah was taken away from him by Pharaoh, and then by Abimelech— there you have four trials; 
again, when Sarah said to Hagar the Egyptian: Go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid (Gen 16:2)—there you have five;
again, when Sarah said of Ishmael: Cast out this bondwoman and her son (Gen 21:10)—there you have six;
again, when Abraham led forth his trained men (Gen 14:14) against the invading kings—there you have seven; 
again, when God said of circumcision: Every male among you shall be circumcised (Gen 17:10)—there you have eight;
again, when God showed to Abraham, between the halves of a heifer, the four  kingdoms enslaving his children—there you have nine;
and finally, in the binding of Isaac, when God said: Take now thy son, thine only one...and offer him…for a burnt-offering (Gen 22:2)—there you have ten. Abraham accepted these trials with reverence and with love and stood up to them like a man of might. And what was his reward? He is a shield unto all them that take refuge in him (Ps 18:31c); for God said to Abraham: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward (Gen 15:1b).
The nations of the earth asked: “Why does the Holy One, blessed be He, love Abraham and deliver him from the fiery furnace, from the nine kings, from armed hosts, and from all the troubles which came upon him?” The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: I shall bring you close and show you that even if I tell Abraham to take his son and offer him up as a burnt-offering for My name’s sake, he will obey Me. Therefore I am his shield, even as his is a shield to all them that take refuge in him; and in days to come, Abraham’s children will begin their Eighteen Benedictions with “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the Shield of Abraham.” 
Bereshit Rabba 44:1
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1). As for God, his way is perfect, the word of the Lord is tried (II Samuel 22:31). If his way is perfect, how much the more is he! Rab said, “[Since the word for ‘tried’ yields the meaning ‘purify,’ we may conclude that] the religious duties were given only to purify humanity. For what difference does it make to the Holy One, blessed be He, if one slaughters a beast at the throat or at the nape of the neck? Lo, the sole purpose is to purify humanity. 
Another matter: His way is perfect (II Samuel 23:31) refers to Abraham, for it is written in his regard, You found [Abraham’s] way faithful before you (Neh. 9:8). The word of the Lord is tried (II Samuel 23:31): For the Holy One, blessed be He, tried him in the fiery furnace. He is a shield to all them that take refuge in him (II Samuel 22:31). Fear not, Abram, I am your shield (Genesis 15:1).
Genesis 10:8-9
8 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”
Bab. Tal. Pesahim 118a
Others maintain that it was Gabriel who said, And the truth of the Lord endures forever.  For when the wicked Nimrod cast our father Abraham into the fiery furnace, Gabriel said to the Holy One, blessed be He:  'Sovereign of the Universe! Let me go down, cool it and deliver that righteous man from the fiery furnace.'  Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him:  'I am unique in My world, and he is unique in his world:  it is fitting for Him who is unique to deliver him who is unique.'  But because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold the merited reward of any creature, he said to him, 'Thou shalt be privileged to deliver three of his descendants.'
Bereshit Rabba 38:13
And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah (11:28). R. Hiyya said: Terah was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away somewhere and left Abraham to sell them in his place. A man came and wished to buy one. 'How old are you?' Abraham asked him. 'Fifty years,' was the reply. 'Woe to such a man!' he exclaimed, 'you are fifty years old and would worship a day-old object!' At this he became ashamed and departed. On another occasion a woman came with a plate­ful of flour and requested him, 'Take this and offer it to them.' So he took a stick, broke them, and put the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned he demanded, 'What have you done to them?' 'I cannot conceal it from you,' he rejoined. 'A woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested me to offer it to them. One claimed, I must eat first," while another claimed, I must eat first." Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick, and broke them.' 'Why do you make sport of me,' he cried out; 'have they then any knowledge!' 'Should not your ears listen to what your mouth is saying,' he retorted!
Thereupon he seized him and delivered him to Nimrod. 'Let us worship the fire!' he [Nimrod] pro­posed. 'Let us rather worship water, which extinguishes the fire,' replied he. 'Then let us worship water!' 'Let us rather worship the clouds which bear the water. ' 'Then let us worship the clouds!' 'Let us rather worship the winds which disperse the clouds.' 'Then let us worship the wind!' 'Let us rather worship human beings, who withstand the wind.' 'You are just bandying words,' he exclaimed; 'we will worship nought but the fire. Behold, I will cast you into it; and let your God whom you adore come and save you from it.' Now Haran was standing there undecided. If Abram is victorious, [thought he], I will say that I am of Abram's belief, while if Nimrod is victorious I will say that I am on Nimrod's side. When Abram descended into the fiery furnace and was saved, he [Nimrod] asked him, 'Of whose belief are you?' 'Of Abram's,' he replied. Thereupon he seized and cast him into the fire; his innards were scorched and he died in his father's presence. Hence it is written, and Haran died in the presence of (' al pene) his father Terah.
Bereshit Rabba 39:11
R. Berekiah said: Because travelling has three adverse effects, diminishing procreation, and reducing one's wealth and one's fame, [God gave him counter assurances]. Since it diminishes procreation [He said to him], and I will make of thee a great nation; it decreases one's wealth, hence, and I will bless thee; it diminishes one's name [fame], hence, and make thy name great. And though the proverb says, 'When you travel from one house to another, you lose a shirt; from one country to another, you lose a life, yet in truth thou wilt lose neither life nor property.

Ramban on Genesis 12:10
And there was a famine in the land.  Now Abraham went down to Egypt on account of the famine to dwell there in order to keep himself alive in the days of the drought, but the Egyptians oppressed him for no reason [and attempted] to take his wife.  The Holy One, blessed be He, avenged their cause with great plagues, and brought him forth from there with cattle, with silver, and with gold, and Pharaoh even commanded his men to escort them from the land.  He thereby alluded to Abraham that his children would go down to Egypt on account of the famine to dwell there in the land, and the Egyptians would do them evil and take the women from them, just as Pharaoh said, And every daughter ye shall save alive, but the Holy One, blessed be He, would avenge their cause with great plagues until He would bring them forth with silver and gold, sheep and oxen, very rich in cattle, with the Egyptians pressuring to send them out of the land.  Nothing was lacking in all the events that happened to the patriarch that would not occur to the children….
Know that Abraham our father unintentionally committed a great sin by exposing his righteous wife to a stumbling-block of sin on account of his fear for his life.  He should have trusted that God would save him and his wife and all his belongings, for God surely had the power to help and to save.  His leaving the Land, concerning which he had been commanded from the beginning, on account of the famine, was also a sin he committed, for in [a time of] famine God redeems us from death.  It was because of this deed that the exile in the land of Egypt at the hand of Pharaoh was decreed for his children.  In the place of justice, there is wickedness and sin.