I would like to pose a fascinating question to my dear readership: What’s the biggest nisayon faced by a Torah giant in Sefer Bereishis?
Wait, you say, that’s a no brainer! Akeidas Yitzchak! Avraham Avinu was asked to sacrifice his only child from Sarah after waiting 100 years to have him. Avraham Avinu was also asked to become the ultimate hypocrite; after preaching a lifetime about kindness, he was now to kill his own son. Sacrificing Yitzchak would also put Sarah’s life at risk, and, indeed, she didn’t survive the shock of the Akeida.
But are you sure that was the biggest test? What about Chava being tempted by the wily serpent? What about Rachel Imeinu facing the choice of giving her secret codes to Leah so that she wouldn’t be embarrassed on her wedding night but which meant that Rachel risked losing Yaakov, the love of her life, and perhaps forfeiting becoming a mother of Yisrael – perhaps even having to marry Eisav?
What about the choice of Yosef HaTzaddik, who, in the position of viceroy, could have wreaked vengeance against his brothers who lowered him into a pit of snakes and scorpions and forced him to lose 22 years of happy home life with his beloved family?
What about his experience with Potifar or having to withstand the urge for two decades to send a message to Yaakov that he was still alive even though he must have desperately wanted to spare his saintly father anguish?
Exploring this question is not merely an exercise in entertainment. It is a vital educational course. Sefer Bereishis is known as Sefer HaYashar (the Book of the Upright). One of the primary aims of studying it is to learn from the ways of its Yesharim.
Thus, we are challenged to emulate the sterling behavior of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. The many nisyonos in Sefer Bereishis are model lessons for mankind on how to correctly navigate the trials and challenges that Hashem places before us during our lifetimes.
We are taught in Pirkei Avos, “Al taamin b’aztzm’cha ad yom mosecha – Do not trust yourself until the day that you die.” As soon as we successfully prevail over one scheme of the yetzer hara, he promptly presents us with another one. The continuous duty of the Torah Jew is to live by the credo of “HaChaim v’hamaves nasati lefonecha, u’vacharta b’chaim – Life and death I have put before you; make sure you choose life.”
My humble opinion is that Tamar faced the biggest test in Sefer Bereishis. She suffered the loss of two husbands and desperately wanted to have children, but Yehudah prevented Sheilah from marrying her. So she manufactured a deceptive tryst with Yehudah to fulfill the biblical mitzvah of geula, familial redemption.
When she subsequently became pregnant, Yehudah, unaware that she was pregnant from him, condemned her to be executed by burning – the painful death specifically ordered for a daughter of a kohen who brings dishonor on the priesthood. Tamar had Yehudah’s staff and signet ring and could have easily saved her life and those of her twins. Yet, she kept silent, preferring to die horrifically with her unborn children rather than publicly embarrass Yehudah.
Her decision is unimaginable and is the biblical basis for the Talmudic dictum, “Moach lo l’adam sheyatzil leatzmo l’kivshon ha’eish mil lihaldin es chaveiro b’rabim – It should be easier for a person to cast himself into a furnace of fire rather that to embarrass someone publicly.”
I would like to conclude with one last thought. As we said, life is a series of tests. Yet, every day we ask Hashem in the morning, “Al tivi’einu lo lidei nisayon – Do not lead us to a test.” What kind of a request is this? Isn’t that avoiding the purpose of life?
The answer is that we are asking Hashem to allow us to make our own challenges. We will constantly strive to daven with more concentration; to be more sweet and attentive to our spouses; to spend more time learning; and to be more charitable. May Hashem help us with these pursuits and, in that merit, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.