By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
It is important for us to understand and analyze where lay the test for Avraham Avinu in going to Egypt. Avraham Avinu unflinchingly stood up for his values and his faith in the Creator, against both his father and King Nimrod. Surely, it was a hard situation for him when he came to Eretz Yisrael and the famine immediately forced him to leave for Egypt. However, this seems to pale in comparison to the test of the kiddush Hashem that Avraham Avinu endured when he was ready to give up his very life in the fires of Ur Kasdim.
Let us look more closely at this test of the famine. Certainly, it created a situation where Avraham Avinu could have questioned Hashem’s motives. After all, Hashem had promised him Eretz Yisrael and then forced him to go down to Egypt (a poor substitute, to be sure).
Yet it seems there was a much greater objective to this test. In it, we find a Divine design to show to what extent Avraham Avinu excelled in his unquestioning acceptance of Hashem’s actions. The adversity expressed in this test was a striking assessment of the greatness of Avraham Avinu and of his willingness to accept Hashem’s gezeiros. What Hashem decreed, Avraham accepted unquestioningly.
For here it was not a test solely for Avraham Avinu. Although people are often willing to take the extreme step of sacrificing themselves to sanctify Hashem’s Name, it is different when it comes to sacrificing other members of their family. Then the equation changes. And going down to Egypt was not just a danger for Avraham Avinu. It entailed a significant danger for Sarah, the likelihood of the righteous Sarah being taken to the palace of Pharaoh and subjected to the worst type of humiliation. Avraham Avinu understood this as he was going down. That is why he set up the whole system of “say that you are my sister,” since he understood what awaited them in Egypt. He recognized the dangers that existed for both of them, and which came very close to being realized.
Thus, we see that the test of Avraham Avinu going down to Egypt was extraordinarily great. Although he was previously found willing to give up his own life, he now demonstrated that his mindset of not questioning the actions of Hashem was absolute. It would not have been surprising at all if Avraham had questioned the Creator and said, “Hashem, it is one thing that I am not found worthy. I understand that You are treating me harshly. But my righteous wife Sarah—why is she being subjected to dangers that are surely not befitting her?” Nevertheless, Avraham Avinu accepted the Heavenly decree. He went down to Egypt without question.
As Avraham Avinu’s trials moved up from one level to the next, the final and ultimate test was the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak. Here, even after Avraham Avinu showed his willingness to give up his own life and risk his wife, too, the challenge became giving over his own child to sure death—and not just that, but the father himself must perform the act of slaughter. That was the ultimate test.
To reach the level of this tenth and final test of the Akeidah, it was necessary that Avraham Avinu first go through the test of the famine, in which his wife was put into danger. He grew from level to level in accepting the Creator’s decree. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Beraishis.