When Yaakov reunites with Eisav at the beginning of this week’s parshah, he proclaims: “Im Lavan garti” (32:5). Rashi explains that this statement hinted to the fact that Yaakov maintained all of his learning and mitzvah observance while living in Lavan’s household. Lavan was a crooked and manipulative cheat, and living in his household was a stark departure from the honesty and righteousness of Yitzchak’s household, thus posing a potential challenge to Yaakov’s spiritual vitality. Therefore, it was a tremendous accomplishment for Yaakov to maintain his spiritual growth while living in Lavan’s house for 20 years. We must ask, howEiver, how he accomplished such a feat.

 Chazal tell us that Avraham was faced with ten challenges along his spiritual journey. While it is commonly understood that Akeidas Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac, was Avraham’s tenth test, many commentaries posit that the tenth test came after the Akeidah; they suggest that Avraham’s tenth trial was the death of his wife, Sarah, and the episode of burying her in M’aras HaMachpeilah. This assertion seems strange, as the willingness to sacrifice one’s own son seems to be the ultimate challenge, incomparable to the apparent test that followed. What, then, was the true nature of this challenge, and why is it viewed as such a difficult test?

 There was an elderly carpenter who was ready to retire. He told his boss of his plans to leave the house-building industry in order to enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle with his wife. He would miss the weekly paycheck, but he was ready to retire, and they could get by on his savings. The contractor was sorry to see his best worker go, and asked if the carpenter could build just one more house as a personal favor to him. The carpenter was reluctant, as he really was ready to retire, but the contractor pushed him until he relented. However, it soon became clear that his heart was just not in it. He resorted to shoddy, quick workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career. When the carpenter finished his work, his boss came to inspect the house. He then handed the front-door key to the carpenter and said, “This is your house, as my parting gift to you.”

A young boy once went to the circus and was astonished when he saw that the giant elephant was tethered to the ground by a thin rope. Curious, he walked over to the elephant trainer and asked: “How are you holding down such a huge elephant with such a tiny rope? The rope doesn’t look very strong. This elephant could break down a brick wall; why doesn’t he break out of this tiny rope?” The trainer smiled at him, and explained: “When this elephant was a baby, weighing just 250 pounds, we tied it up with this very same rope. Every day he tried to break free, but he couldn’t manage to free himself from the rope. He tried and tried, but to no avail. After a few months, he finally gave up, convinced that it was impossible to escape. Now, he weighs two thousand pounds, and is strong enough to easily break free of these ropes. However, in his mind, he still thinks he’s unable to; therefore, he doesn’t even try to escape.”

And Hashem said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

B’reishis 12:1

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