There are two types of tests, tests of hardship and tests of faith. Sometimes one brings on the other. We are faced with a hard time and lose faith. Or we lose faith and, therefore, have a hard time. Here are a few insights about tests.
When Yosef had a chance to send a message to his father after countless of years being apart from him, he chose to send a veiled message. He reminded his father of the last thing the two had learned together, the lesson of the Egla Arufa. Yaakov and Yosef had learned the law of what happens when a man is found dead in no-man’s land between two cities. The elders of each of the cities must come out and swear they did not cause the unknown man’s death. In other words, the Torah teaches that everything is caused by something and there is no randomness in the world. By reminding Yaakov of this Halacha, Yosef was hinting to him not to regret the past years. Everything has a cause and a consequence – nothing is random. Therefore, one cannot view his or her own trials and tribulations objectively, without knowing the cause, the consequence, the chain of events yet to happen.
Miracles only come after a test. The going out from Mitzrayim was preceded by the test of slavery. The miracle of birth of our nation’s leaders always followed years of the Eemahos not having children. Dawn comes after dark. Throughout a test, remember, it might be the darkest of night right before daybreak. It might be the hardest time right before the most joyous one.
When faced with some of life’s test (and Hashem sends us many tests in our lives…hard ones, too), we must remember nothing is random in Hashem’s world. There are causes sometimes to why a test happened. The first step when faced with a test is to question ourselves, remember our past deeds, and try to find out if there is anything which could have caused this.
After doing some soul searching, we might come up with no concrete answers. It doesn’t mean there are no answers. There might be some event that will be set into motion by the things we are enduring.
I’ve heard an amazing parable given on this concept, which helped me really understand it. Supposing some scientists fly into the thickets in the Amazon and find a tribe that has been isolated from the rest of the world until now. They see a man there who has a disease, which is slowly eating away at his body. They quickly take him into their tent and, to the horror of the other tribe members, tie him down to a table. The next thing these horrible scientists do is take a knife and begin cutting away at the man. Horrors, these new men must be cannibals, think the tribe members. Look how savage they are,cutting up our friend. The tribe members cannot know they are witnessing the brilliant science of medical surgery.
Some things in our lives might look horrible, just because we don’t understand they are healing us, saving us or pushing us into a direction we must go.
Back in the 1940’s, many Yeshiva students were sentenced to a few years of hard labor in Siberia. As they chopped trees in the freezing wasteland, they thought their lot in life was the worst they could imagine. Little did they know about the murders of their friends by the Nazis, Yemach Shemam. After a few years, they were released from forced labor to find out that their “misfortune” had been the way they had been saved.
A girl from abroad was in America on a visitor’s visa. After attending a wedding in Canada, she was not allowed back into the U.S., no matter how much she pleaded with the immigration officers. Stuck, she decided to move to Israel…where she ended up meeting her husband.
Things don’t always go the way we wanted…but it is always going the way it was meant to be from up in Heaven. There are tests given from Heaven in order to push us to our utmost.
There is a well-known story about the millionaire who showed some guests around his estate. In middle of his lawn he had a sunken pool full of chomping crocodiles. “The thing I admire most,” explained the rich man, “is courage. Therefore, any man willing to swim through my pool of crocodiles, will be given everything I own, my estate and my money.” He looked at his guests, but none seemed to want to take him up on his offer.
As they turned to leave, they heard a splash. Everyone whirled around in time to see one of the guests swimming frantically in the pool. The crocs were chasing him, and it was a close race for the man’s life. All watching held their breaths, wondering if the man would make it. The swimming man got to the end of the pool, one-half inch ahead of the crocs. A croc snapped at him as he desperately started pulling himself out of the pool, but only managed to get a bite out of the seat of his pants. The man was huffing and puffing, water streaming out of his clothing.
There was a respectful silence as the millionaire walked toward the swimmer. In a voice full of admiration, the rich man said, “I meant what I said. What courage you have! You can have whatever you want. You can have it all!”
The water-logged guest tried to collect himself, barely able to breathe or talk due to his exertion. He finally managed to gasp out, “I…just…want…to… know…one….thing. Which….of….you… (gasp) idiots… pushed….me?”
Courage and greatness, unfortunately, sometimes only come out when we are challenged through no choice of ours; but by being put into a hard situation, by being pushed into the pool. Some of the tests you will be given in life is Hashem’s way of pushing you into a situation that will demonstrate your courage and greatness.
Diamonds are just lumps of coal that had been subjected to intense heat and pressure. The brilliance and beauty of some people’s personalities are sometimes a result of the hardships they have endured.
Shlomo Hamelech said, “Happy is the man whocarried a burden in his youth.” A person who has undergone pain is usually more understanding of others. Suffering pain is almost like being given a new sense of sight.
A test of hardship is often times infinitely easier than any other test. A test of faith is much, much harder. To feel alone, abandoned by Hashem, angry at life, is the worst torture of all. We are told that when Hashem wants to punish a Jew, He takes away his faith.
When water needs purification, we sit the kettle right on the heat. As the water comes to a rolling boil, you see the impurities rising to the surface. Questions sometimes need to be boiled right out of us through intense heat. Answers about our existence and purity of purpose are achieved through these tests.
We have an interesting contradiction. On one hand, we are told that when an Apikores, a deliberate sinner, questions us, we are not to answer. Obviously such a person only wants to poke fun, not gain answers. Therefore, we ignore him totally.
Yet, on the other hand, we are told, “Da Ma LaHashiv Lapikores” – Know how to respond to the Apikores. Why should we have to know how to respond, if we’re going to ignore him? My father always taught me that the commandment to know how to respond to the Apikores is for us, for the Apikores within ourselves. Know the answers for when you go through your doubting times, the times you find yourself weak and questioning, the times of the testing of our faith.
To quote my father, “Only people who come equipped to Siberia, survive Siberia. If someone comes without a coat, he freezes. Life is sometimes like Siberia. We have to know the elements we will have to deal with in order to survive. Answers to our questions are our coats on those chilly days. You’ll have questions at times. You have to prepare for it beforehand.”