Thursday, October 29, 2009

Avraham vs. Tevye

The first of Avraham's ten נסיונות (trials) is contained in the first pasuk in Parshat Lech L'cha. Avraham had to leave all the comforts of his home and break out for a new life in Eretz Israel. This might be a little similar to the experience of a religious Zionist making aliyah from suburban America. No more Trader Joe's. Goodbye Target and Netflix. HaShem wants me to live in Israel and I will give up these creature comforts for the sake of the Lord. I do believe that life in the 21st century CE is a little easier than life in the 21st century BCE. Also, I would not have a wisp of a chance of passing this נסיון of Avraham, while he aced that test with flying colors.

The Ishbitzer Rebbe explains that Avraham had to forgo his affluent life in Charan - Avraham needed to focus on the מידה of שמח בחלקו.

We usually explain שמח בחלקו as being content with what you have. According to the Ishbitzer, it was not enough for Avraham to appreciating the good things in life - he had to be happy with what he had. We know that according to Hilkhot Tzedakkah, if someone asks you for money to help pay for their chauffeur - you are obligated to give them tzedakkah. Should Avraham ask for tzedakkah in Eretz Israel to help him live a similar life that he had in Charan? The Ishbitzer Rebbe takes this idea one step further, what should Avraham ask from HaShem? What level of basic needs and פרנסה should Avraham daven for? This was Avraham's נסיון, not only did he need to be content with his new frugal lifestyle, he had to be happy and to thank HaShem for whatever material well being he had.

The Ishbitzer uses this explanation of Avraham's נסיון to explain the pasuk when Avraham returned from Mitzrayim.

Bereshit 13:2 "Abram was very rich (כבד מאד), with livestock, silver and gold"
R. Aryeh Kaplan brilliantly translates the phrase "כבד מאד" as, very rich. However, literally the phrase means, very heavy. The Ishbitzer states that Avraham was weighed down by all of his newfound wealth which completely contradicted his new outlook on life as a result of the first נסיון. After adjusting to a spartan lifestyle and to be genuinely happy and satisfied, Avraham felt that being wealthy was an actual burden.

One final note - the Ishbitzer's explanation of כבד מאד contradicts one of my favorite lines from Fiddle on the Roof. I will paraphrase Tevye who said, "If money is a curse, may HaShem smite me and may I never recover!"


  1. Nice vort, especially on "kaved me'od." I suppose that getting the wealth was every bit as much of a test as losing it. I suppose we can interpret Tevye as praying for the zechut to be tested like avraham was -- with wealth.

  2. It might also be fair to say that Tevye was not on the level of Avraham. Certainly in today's economy - it is difficult to be happy with less.