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Chayei Sarah

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann

Mountains and Mentchen

Our forefather Avraham was tested with ten trials - and he withstood them all. (Avos 5:4)

There is some disagreement among mefarshim (commentators) as to exactly which ten events comprise the "ten trials" (asara nisyonos). Most commentators explain that the final and greatest test was the Akeidas Yitzchak, Hashem's command to offer Avraham's son Yitzchak as a sacrifice. However, Rabbeinu Yona (ibid.) explains that Avraham's tenth test was the difficulties Avraham had in securing a burial plot for his wife Sarah, an episode described in great detail at the beginning of this week's sidrah.

One might ask: After the most demanding test imaginable - the Akeidah - what point could there be in a test which was far less demanding? Why was the test of finding a burial plot the final and ultimate test? And how did doing so prove that Avraham was worthy to be the forebear of Klal Yisrael - Hashem's delegates in the earthly realm?

A cursory reading of the negotiations between Avraham and Efron depicts Efron as a very accommodating and considerate fellow. Seemingly, it was only after Avraham exerted great pressure that Efron agreed to take any payment for his field. Beneath the surface, however, lay the soul of the used-car salesman par-excellence. Efron offered much, yet failed to do anything at all (Rashi). Efron was hypocrisy and insincerity personified. When Efron spoke out loud, "in the ears of the Children of Cheis," he was genial and gracious. But once he had Avraham within earshot, "between me and you (23:15)," his tune changed remarkably; his demands were clear and exorbitant. Efron was clearly not the type of chap one looks forward to bumping into after a long, hard day.

Avraham, on the other hand, had just returned from the most draining ordeal of his lifetime. It would not be unreasonable to think he might have been physically exhausted and emotionally spent. He arrives home to find his wife and lifelong partner has left him alone in the world. Nor was he returning from any normal "day at the office." He had withstood the definitive test. He had stretched out the blade to Yitzchak's throat, and he had withdrawn it. He had spoken with Hashem, and been blessed by the angels. In a period of a few days, Avraham had seen and experienced what most could never dream of in a lifetime.

It is at this point that Avraham meets up with an insincere, hypocritical salesman known as Efron. Could Avraham be blamed if he treated Efron with the disdain he rightfully deserved? But how did Avraham react? "And Avraham prostrated himself..." He treated Efron with decency and respect. He behaved as a Jew should, and through his mentschliche behavior he brought great honor to Hashem's name.

Sometimes, the little things that get in one's way turn out to be greater tests than life's hugest obstacles. A person who understands that life is no more than a giant test will often recognize the big, obvious tests. But what about life's myriad annoyances and nuisances? This is especially true of those who are in positions of fame and recognition. Why is it that so many of the greatest celebrities and superstars turn out to be so revolting in person? Imagine an astronaut, having just returned from a crucial space mission, stops off at a store on the way home, and someone pushes ahead of him in the line. Imagine the winner of the Boston Marathon returning to his car to find it had been towed. How would they react?

How do we - relatively simple earthlings - respond when the limits of our patience are pushed? Do we react with the knowledge that we are Hashem's ambassadors to the world? Do we remember that He constantly watches us, expecting us to bring honor to His name?

A Jew must behave like a mentsch even when treated in the most disrespectful manner. How we react when presented with life's small but annoying aggravations ultimately define to what extent we are aware of Hashem's presence in our everyday lives. The test of Efron was infinitely smaller and less significant than the test of the Akeidah. But that's exactly what made it so important. To conquer a mountain is an amazing feat. But it doesn't prove you're a mentsch.

Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.

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