There was a famine in the land, and Abram descended to Egypt (Bereishit 12:10).
Our forefather Avraham's (Abraham) life is a saga of one continuous struggle with never-ending tests of faith. Hashem commands him to leave his homeland and to make the difficult journey to the promised but unknown land of Canaan. Shortly after his arrival in Canaan – the future Land of Israel - Avraham finds himself in the midst of a severe famine. He has no choice but to pack up and search for food and water elsewhere.
The famine is only the fourth in the series of Avraham's ten severe tests of faith (according to Rashi). One might ask, "Why must Hashem test Avraham's faith ten times? Why are the tests so difficult, from persecution and skirting with death in a fiery furnace to the Akeida, when he was asked to ritually sacrifice his only son? Doesn't Hashem know that Avraham's faith is steadfast?
Hashem knows exactly how Avraham will react – with perfect, simple, innocent, and unblemished faith. The tests are not for Hashem's benefit, but for Avraham's benefit.
of Breslev explains (Likutei Moharan I:66.4
) that the obstacles that a person encounters in life are designed to enhance that person's desire. For that reason, before a person makes a significant accomplishment in the service of Hashem – especially in the acquisition of something that is vital to his or her Judaism such as enhanced holiness – the person is tested with a series of obstacles. He or she must overcome these obstacles to attain their goal. Nevertheless, the obstacles fuel the desire to reach the goal. Consequently, the obstacles are the agents that extract a person's very best efforts in making spiritual gain, since the obstacles fuel the desire.
With Hashem's loving grace, the following parable will help us understand the above principle, namely, that obstacles fuel desire.
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Shraga Feivish was the most adept matchmaker in the whole province. People used to say that he could seal a match between a bulldog and a Siamese cat if he put his mind to it.
One day, the Rebbe summoned Shraga Feivish and presented him with a difficult challenge: "Shraga Feivish," said the Rebbe, "Moshe Mendel the son of Uri the baker is a wonderful boy. He's destined to be a great scholar and tzaddik. He deserves to devote his life to Torah and prayer. Menachem the banker has a daughter that would be perfect for Moshe Mendel. This match is made in Heaven. I want you to arrange this match; your reward will be substantial, in this world and in the next!"
"Rebbe," replied Shraga Feivel, kissing the tzaddik's hand, "There's nothing I would like better than to do the Rebbe's bidding! But what can I do? Menachem the banker has visions of securing a high-society match for his daughter. He won't give me the time of day for anything less than a blue-blooded rebbishe grandson. The banker with the baker? It will never work!"
"With Hashem's help, you shall make it work," smiled the Rebbe, who then blessed the matchmaker and sent him on his way…
Although Menachem the banker had a number of good proposals, he was nevertheless both curious and eager to hear what Shraga Feivel had to offer. With the Rebbe's blessing, Shraga Feivel had complete confidence of success…
"My esteemed Reb Menachem," said Shraga Feivel, while ceremoniously opening his notebook, "I can offer you any number of the best young men in all of Podolia and Galitzia; if it's blueblood you seek, my clients include the offspring of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Michal'e of Zlatchov, and the Noam Elimelch, just to name a few. If it's scholarship you seek, I represent the best boys from the best yeshivas, the least of whom has mastered the entire Talmud by age fifteen. With your wherewithal, I can offer you your choice of the cream, that is, with the exception of one boy…"
Curiosity got the best of Menachem the banker, who swallowed the matchmaker's bait. "Which boy? Don't hide anything from me, Shraga Feivel!"
"What does it matter to you?" asked Shraga Feivel. "Money can't buy everything. I have one boy who is so far ahead of the rest in holiness and pure Torah scholarship that he deserves not only a father-in-law of means, but a father-in-law that will appreciate having an absolute tzaddik for a son-in-law. After all, you're a banker, Menachem…"
"Are you insinuating that I'm not good enough for this boy? Don't you know that I learn with a chevrusa every evening?"
"So do the wagon-masters and the water-shleppers! This boy prays like an angel – when he finishes shmona-esrei, he's standing in a puddle of tears, and…"
"What are you driving at, Shraga Feivel? Do you think I pray like one of the peddlers? I'm the first one in shul for Shacharis in the morning and the last one to leave. How dare you imply that I'm not worthy of a tzaddik for a son-in-law!"
"Listen, Reb Menachem, for your own good, why not settle for a Talmudic scholar that happens to be a grandson of the Rizhiner Rebbe. I mean, after all…"
"No!" said the banker. "I demand to see your best boy, the tzaddik!"
"Sorry, Reb Menachem; I don't think the Rebbe will let me match the holy young man with anything less than the daughter of a someone truly on the appropriate spiritual level, who at least has a working knowledge of the Ari's Eight Gates…"
"I demand to see the Rebbe! Enough! Take me to the Rebbe!"
Shraga Feivel's ploy worked perfectly. The more obstacles he put in Menachem the banker's way, the more the latter desired the match with Moshe Mendel. Later, in the Rebbe's chamber, the banker literally begged the Rebbe to grant a blessing to the match between his daughter and the baker's son.
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The Gemara teaches that three things are obtained by trials and tribulations – The Land of Israel, Torah, and the World to Come. The deeds of fathers pave the ways for sons. Since our forefather Avraham had to work so hard to obtain the Holy Covenant with Hashem and the promise of Torah and Eretz Yisroel for his offspring, his desire and yearning were enhanced a thousand-fold.
Hashem showed Avraham that faith and Eretz Yisroel don't come easy. The trials and tribulations only fueled Avraham's desire, just as the obstacles fueled Menachem the banker's desire to make a match for his daughter that he may otherwise not have considered.
May Hashem give us the burning desire for holiness that will help us overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of Torah and Eretz Yisroel, amen.
(You are cordially welcome to visit Rabbi Lazer Brody's website and daily web journal "Lazer Beams" at www.lazerbrody.net