By Rabbi Alex Chapper
There are very few people who enjoy being tested, as human nature dictates that we prefer to avoid situations that make us feel uncomfortable. However, Abraham was different – he seemed to embrace a good challenge, as he would declare: “Here I am… I’m ready” when he faced the 10 tests God presented him. His positive attitude towards those tests prompts us to re-evaluate the nature of tests in general.
Nachmanides explains that tests are the method through which God brings out a person’s latent potential to the actual, enabling them to receive reward not just for having a good heart, but also for performing a positive action. As it says in Psalms: “God tests the righteous”, because it is known that they perform God’s will and He wants to reward them. This is in contrast to those who do not listen to God.
They are not given tests as they are undeserving of the opportunity that it affords them. Clearly, Nachmanides is of the opinion that all tests in the Torah are for the ultimate good of the one being tested. An additional understanding can be gleaned from that fact that the verse “And God tested Abraham” can be better translated as “And God held up Abraham as a banner” – the Hebrew word “nes” meaning both a “test” and a “flag” or “banner”.
As it says in Psalms, “You have given a “nes” – banner – to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.”
Just as flags are used to represent a country or an organisation and to catch our attention and send a signal, so too in this way we are able to view tests as a sign that God is present in our lives – trying to catch our attention, sending us a signal. They are a banner shouting out to us that God is interested in us and believes in us. God held up Abraham as a banner because his response was, “Here I am, I am ready”, so that we his descendants would also know how to respond.
Although it may not be possible to totally embrace challenging moments in our lives with a completely positive attitude, perhaps we can at least face rather than shy away from them. If it helps, we should keep in mind that God does not give us a test that we cannot pass and, ultimately, it is for our benefit.
• Rabbi Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi www.childrensrabbi.com