“There was a famine in the land, and Abram descended to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”
The Parsha begins with Hashem instructing Avraham Avinu to uproot his whole life, leave his nation, society, and family, and go on a journey to an unknown destination. Soon after passing this test and traveling to Eretz Yisroel, Avraham endures a terrible famine and is forced to leave for Eretz Mitzrayim. Chazal and the Rishonim write that this famine constituted one of the ten tests that Avraham had to pass in order to achieve his full potential. What was the exact nature of the test? Rashi says, “in order to test him if he would question the words of HaKadosh Baruch Hu - Hashem told him to go to the land of Canaan and now He caused him to leave!”
According to Rashi the main aspect of the test was not the challenge of having no food, but that Avraham was unable to fulfill Hashem’s instructions of ’lech lecha’. Hashem had told him to go to the land of Eretz Yisroel and there he would be able to fulfill his spiritual potential, and yet he was immediately met with a tremendous obstacle which forced him to take a course of action which seemed to contradict the whole tachlis of his mission. He believed that his task was to be in Eretz Yisroel and yet he was forced to leave as soon as he arrived there! He could have wondered why he was forced to seemingly abandon his spiritual journey but he did not become frustrated and did not question Hashem in any way. He recognized that he did not truly understand how his journey of ‘lech lecha’ should proceed - that was in Hashem’s hands. He could only do his hishtadlus and accept that anything beyond his control was from Hashem and there was no need to be discouraged. He knew that the famine came from Hashem and that Hashem must have some reasoning behind the plan. Indeed, in hindsight, the events that took place there and the challenges that he faced, do seem to have had many benefits.
The Ramban writes that all the experiences of the Avos are a simun for his descendants. We also face the challenges that he faced and the way that he dealt with those challenges will give us the ability to withstand them in our own lives. Accordingly, the test of the famine is very relevant to all our lives. A person may embark on a spiritual journey based on his understanding of Ratson Hashem. This may involve a major life change such as moving country, or changing ones career, getting married, having children or even a smaller commitment to spiritual growth in learning or mitzvos. Regardless of the form that the ‘journey’ takes, a person will likely have his expectations of the challenges that he will face and how he needs to overcome them. However, very often, he will be met with unforeseen difficulties or obstacles that seem to contradict his whole plan. At that point, there will be a strong inclination to become frustrated that he is unable to grow in the way that he desires.
What is the reason that a person becomes frustrated when his efforts to grow do not work out as he planned? He feels that he knows what would be the ideal way for him to reach his potential - by taking this course of action he will become a better person. Therefore, when he is placed in a situation where his planned course of action his impossible, he feels frustrated because it prevents him from attaining his goal. The mistake he is making is that he feels he knows how he will best reach his potential. Instead he should recognize that only Hashem knows what circumstances a person should face in his life and that whatever obstacles he faces are only there for his growth. He may have thought that such an obstacle was not ideal for his growth, however, evidently Hashem knew otherwise.
My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita gives a common example of this kind of nisayon. A yeshiva bachur or Avreich hopes to begin a new ’zman’ of learning free of outside disturbances that will adversely effect his ability to learn. Talmud Torah is the ultimate way of connecting to Hashem and growing as a person and therefore he hopes he will be able to invest all his energies into the learning. However, on occasion, it may occur that unavoidable distractions do arise, such as the need to attend a family wedding abroad, or health issues. At this point, the person may feel frustrated that he is unable to grow in the way that he wants to - he may see these disturbances as nuisances that prevent him from connecting to Hashem. The mistake being made here is that he thinks he knows the best way for him to grow and that annoying distractions are preventing him from doing so. Instead, he should learn from Avraham Avinu and recognize that these ‘nuisances’ emanate from Hashem and evidently they offer the exact challenge that he needs at this moment. Then he can avoid the harmful attitude of frustration and focus on facing this challenge with simcha and bitachon.
Avraham Avinu’s tests teach vital lessons that apply to our everyday life. May we all be zocheh to emulate his behavior in reacting to challenges.