There is a well-known commentary on Parashat Vayeira that deals beautifully with the topic of emunah shleimah [absolute faith/ faithfulness]. Parashat Vayeira includes Avraham Avinu’s final and most challenging of ten tests (see notes below for a list of the ten): the Akeidat Yitzchak, when HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded him to take the life of his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. The famous commentary asks why this particular trial was the most difficult for Avraham. According to a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah), Avraham “discovered” G-d on his own at a very young age amidst an environment that was steep in idolatrous ideology. This means that his knowledge of G-d had always been initially an intellectual one. Until the test of Akeidah, he had based his faith in G-d solely on HKBH’s rationality. Then all of a sudden, HKBK asked him to take away the life of the one person that will be the continuation of what G-d Himself had promised to him: that Avraham’s progeny will be the ambassadors in sanctifying His Great Name in the world. And even if G-d did not promise him anything, Avraham still found it illogical to have to slaughter a completely innocent person. He could not rationalize why Yitzchak deserved to die (Abarbanel)! [See also Avraham’s dramatic bargaining speech to G-d to save Sodom V’Amorah in the beginning of this parashah.] Thus, for Avraham, the test of Akeidah, probably the only test, that made absolutely no sense, a complete contradiction, and this would seem to merit the questioning of the very basis of his belief in G-d. But it didn’t. Because this is where his emunah shleimah came in.
When HKBH called Avraham’s name to stay his hand from hurting Yitzchak, Avraham answered “Hineini.” His “here I am” said it all. According to Rashi, this expressed both humility and readiness seen in all those who are totally devoted to G-d. Avraham didn’t fail to see that the ultimate test wanted him to give up that one thing that brought him to know and serve G-d — his intellect — and go beyond it by giving in to the will of G-d.
For the past half-decade, I have caught myself waging an on-going internal battle between questioning the worth of the values I’ve held for as long as I can remember and the practicality of adhering to said values. The incessant question “why is G-d making it very hard for me to serve Him?” keeps me on edge as I try to the best of my ability to observe the mitzvot in simplicity [temimut]. But after further introspection, I was allowed to see, B”H, that what is most lacking in my avodah H’ [service of G-d] is emunah shleimah. I was so absorbed in the idea of a rational G-d that I had forgotten a very important, if not the most important, principle in the Jewish faith: that HKBH is so much bigger than any human intellect can ever muster. He is bigger than anything else, in fact. Ein Od Milvado [There is none besides Him] (Devarim 4:35). It was a ridiculous presumption on my part to even encase G-d’s wisdom into a very limited vessel such as human intellect. Should a creation be better than its Creator? My incapacity to understand Him, though, does not in any way equate to Him being irrational. Far from it. It just means that, like Avraham Avinu, I have to persevere in my emunah, my faithfulness, in Him as I did during times when He made complete sense to me.
How do we strengthen our emunah, then? By viewing things in the right perspective.
What is the essence of a Heavenly test? It is “one that forces a person to choose between G-d’s will and his own nature or understanding of what is right” (Artscroll). According to the Ramban, all trials given by G-d are solely for the benefit of those being tested. Similarly, the Vilna Gaon in his Even Shleimah said that the intent of the Torah’s mitzvot [commandments] is to perfect man, to purge him of his middot raot [negative character traits], and in time make them into traits that will help him do avodat H’ as it is intended. We see in all these that the foundation of our faith should be the knowledge that HKBH only desires our good. When everything else seems unclear, at least let this perspective be the only thing that is entirely clear.
“Emunah [is] not the belief in better times to come, with the help of G-d, but the corollary of an abiding belief in the goodness of G-d — a belief that G-d, in His loving kindness, does nothing but good to man.” — from Guardian of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld
I know it may be a long way to go for me to have the amount of emunah shleimah that is required of me in my avodah H’; but I’m not one to give up. With His help, I will get there.
Avraham’s Ten Trials According to the Rambam (Artscroll):
- Avraham’s exile from his family and homeland.
- The hunger in Canaan after G-d had assured him that he would become a great nation there.
- The corruption in Egypt that resulted in the abduction of Sarah.
- The war with the four kings
- His marriage to Hagar after having despaired that Sarah would ever give birth.
- The commandment of circumcision.
- Avimelech’s abduction of Sarah.
- Driving away Hagar after she had given birth.
- The very distasteful command to drive away Ishmael.
- The binding of Isaac on the altar.