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What Is Love
Last week’s Torah portion of Noach ended with us being introduced to Avraham Avinu, this week’s portion of Lech Licha begins the story of our forefather and his trek to ultimate greatness. The Mishna in Pirkey Avos says, “Our forefather Avraham was tested with ten trials, and withstood them all; to show the degree of our forefather Avraham’s love [for Hashem]” (Avos 5:3).
There is an argument amongst the early commentators what exactly the ten trials were. Rabbeinu Yona says the ten trials were:
- Nimrod threw him into the fiery furnace in Ur Kasdim.
- The command to leave his land where he grew up, which he did.
- The famine in Eretz Canaan where he wound up. Even though he was promised blessing he did not question what Hashem was doing now.
- Sarah Immeinu being taken by Pharaoh in Egypt.
- The war of the four kings where he overpowered the enemy with only 318 men. Avraham trusted in Hashem and was provided with a miracle to save himself, Lot, and all the treasures of Sodom and Amorah. He accepted all that happened for his good and merit.
- At the age of 99 he had his bris milah, he put himself into danger at an old age and was saved.
- Avimelech, King of Plishtim, took Sarah Immeinu.
- Yishmael and his mother Hagar were banished from Avraham’s house at the command of Hashem. Even though it hurt him to see what was being done to his son, Avraham still fulfilled the command.
- Akeidas Yitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak his son. This was the greatest test and proved he was a big fearer of Hashem.
- The burial of Sarah Immeinu. After his wife died he had difficulty finding a burial plot until he bought one for a very expensive price and still he did not question Hashem, though he was promised the entire Land of Caaan to belong to him and future generations.
Rabbeinu Yona says that these ten trials were to show the degree of Avraham Avinu’s love for Hashem which means that these tests showed the world that he was G-d fearing and perfected all his character traits. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What does fear of Hashem and perfecting his character traits have to do with Avraham Avinu’s love of Hashem? Chaza”l say fear might lead to love but what does it have to do with love itself? And perfecting his character had to do with his own personal development, what does that have to do with Avraham’s feeling of love for Hashem?
If I would prove how much Avraham Avinu loved Hashem I would have mentioned how Avrahaham built the four alters to bring gifts of offerings up to Hashem. (This, the Sforno in his introduction to the Torah says that in that merit there were 4 alters that the Jewish people merited to build from the time they wandered in the desert until the first Beis HaMikdash was built.) Another expression of love was by teaching tens of thousands of people who Hashem is, by bringing them closer to Hashem and teaching them how to bless Hashem. Or even the very fact that Avraham found Hashem from the age of 3 and kept on developing the close bond with Hashem by performing all His Torah and mitzvos through just looking around the world and realizing what Hashem wants him to do, meaning caring for Hashem and His will is also a tremendous expression of love. So why does the Mishna say passing these tests, which the Rabbienu Yonah says shows that Avraham was a G-d fearing Jew and perfecting his character, are what defines his love for Hashem?
What we see from here is that one’s expression of love is really defined by the respect and dedication one has for the loved one. It is not the gifts or sharing the love with others by showing them why it is so worth it to love Hashem. It is not even caring, which is, the focus of one’s love (though all these things contribute and is a part of one’s expression of love). However, by Avraham Avinu showing his utmost fear of Hashem and perfecting his character traits by unwaveringly surmounting all the challenges all while building and cementing a solid belief and trust in Hashem, proves his utmost respect and dedication towards Hashem which really defines true love.