Have you ever looked at old pictures of yourself and thought about how different you are than the person in the picture?
Life itself is an experience that changes us, whether we like it or not.
Recently my wife and I were leafing through a scrapbook chronicling the time we dated until we were engaged. As we reminisced about that time period, we realized that we are indeed very different people than we were then. We have shared many incredible blessings, as well as many challenging moments, and we have definitely grown and changed in a variety of ways.
Avraham Avinu lived a life of challenges and tests. According to some commentators the first test was “lech lecha” when he was told to leave his family, friends, community and everything familiar to travel to an unknown destination. The final test was the “Akeidah” when Avraham was instructed to offer his beloved son Yitzchak as an offering on the altar.
The medrash notes that when Hashem commanded Avraham to perform the Akeidah He also utilized an expression of ‘lech lecha’ (“Go to Mount Moriah…”). The medrash then states that we are not sure which ‘lech lecha’ was greater – the original or the latter.
What is the question of the medrash? How could any test be more arduous and challenging than the Akeidah?
Tests are not measured only based on circumstance, but also based on who the person is. Two people may be faced with the exact same challenge and yet deal with it completely differently. What’s more, the same person may react differently to the same situation at various stages of life.
Although the command to offer Yitzchak upon the altar was an incredible challenge, by that point Avraham had reached an unimaginable connection with Hashem. He had proven again and again his unwavering loyalty and commitment. At the time he was instructed to leave his family and birthplace however, he had not yet achieved that level of sublime greatness. Therefore, although the Akeidah was undoubtedly a more difficult task in and of itself, based on who Avraham was at that point versus who he was at the time he was instructed ‘lech lecha’ it is not so clear cut which was a greater test.
We hear about other people’s predicaments, and about things other people have done or have not done, and we are quick to pass judgment, point fingers, and blame. At times we may feel that we have a right to do so because we faced the same challenge and dealt with it far more adequately. But we forget how little we really know about each other, for our eyes can only see the surface. Beneath the superficial surface lies the depth and essence of people – their proclivities, inclinations, penchants and what makes them tick.
We can never really judge others. We may see what they do, but we can hardly know who they really are.