Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches that "Avraham Avinu (our
Forefather Abraham) was tested with ten tests (one of which was "Lech
Lecha", leaving his birthplace for an unknown destination based on a Divine
promise) and prevailed in all of them." (Pirkei Avos 5:4) Rabbi Chaim
Volozhiner (1) notes in his commentary on that mishna that the previous
mishna also mentions Avraham but surprisingly omits the tribute "Avinu."
Based on the verse in Mishlei/Proverbs (20:7), "A tzadik (righteous
individual) walks in righteousness, fortunate are his offspring after him,"
Rabbi Chaim explains what could be described as the Theory of "Spiritual
Lamarckism." According to Lamarck, organisms altered their behavior in
response to environmental change. Their changed behavior, in turn, modified
their organs, and their offspring inherited those "improved" structures.
For example, giraffes developed their elongated necks and front legs by
generations of browsing on high tree leaves. The exercise of stretching up
to the leaves altered the neck and legs, and their offspring inherited
these acquired characteristics. Although this theory has long been
disproved in the science of the physical world, it nonetheless remains
completely true in the realm of the spirit. One who ascends the spiritual
ladder and acquires levels of saintly achievement does indeed bequeath
these acquisitions to their offspring.
The commentaries point out that the word for trial or tribulation, nisayon,
derives from the word for flag, nays, because the purpose of life's ordeals
is to elevate the person, to raise him up like a flag, and to assist in the
actualization of his potential.
Avraham was tested ten times because he was destined to become "Avinu," the
progenitor of the holy Jewish nation. By rising to the challenge of each of
these ordeals, and prevailing in each instance, he was able to realize all
of his latent potential which would then, through the process of "Spiritual
Lamarckism," become the inheritance of his offspring and part of the
spiritual DNA of the Jewish People.
Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner uses this idea to explain how so many simple Jews
over the centuries have proved willing to give up their lives, dying to
sanctify the Divine name, dying as a Jew, in order to hold true to their
religious beliefs. It is encoded in the spiritual genetics of a Jew to be
able to do so as a result of Avraham's willingness to be tossed into
Nimrod's fiery furnace at Ur Kasdim rather than to relinquish his
monotheistic convictions. Likewise, Rabbi Chaim explains, the ability of
the simple Jew to uproot himself and his family and trek large distances
through horrible conditions in order to set foot in the Land of Israel
results from Avraham's success in his challenge to do the same upon
hearing the command "Lech Lecha."
As we strive in our own lives to grow in Torah and G-d consciousness and to
ascend the ladder of spirituality, we should do so with the awareness and
joy of knowing that our achievements and acquisitions will not only elevate
us, but will become the spiritual inheritance of our offspring as well.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1749-1821; foremost disciple of the Vilna Gaon and founder of the
famous Yeshiva in Volozhin in 1802; author of Nefesh HaChaim on Torah
philosophy & outlook and Ruach HaChaim on Pirkei Avos