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What Were Abraham’s 10 Tests?

What Were Abraham’s 10 Tests?

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Question:

I learned in Ethics of Our Fathers1 that G‑d tested Abraham with 10 tests and he withstood all of them. But the Mishnah does not tell us what those tests were. Can you perhaps enlighten me?

Response:

You are correct; Ethics does not tell us what the tests actually were. There are actually a number of schools of thought about this. Here are some.

Maimonides2 lists them as follows:

1. G‑d tells him to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.3
2. Immediately after his arrival in the Promised Land, he encounters a famine.4
3. The Egyptians seize his beloved wife, Sarah, and bring her to Pharaoh.5
4. Abraham faces incredible odds in the battle of the four and five kings.6
5. He marries Hagar after not being able to have children with Sarah.7
6. G‑d tells him to circumcise himself at an advanced age.8
7. The king of Gerar captures Sarah, intending to take her for himself.9
8. G‑d tells him to send Hagar away after having a child with her.10
9. His son, Ishmael, becomes estranged.11
10. G‑d tells him to sacrifice his dear son Isaac upon an altar.12

Note that all of the tests in Maimonides’ list can be found clearly in Scripture. Most other lists include events that are recorded only in midrashic accounts. For example, the following list is brought by Rabbi Ovadiah of Bertinoro. Notice that the first event listed—Abraham’s being thrown into a furnace—is one that is not recorded in the Bible, but is known to us only by way of midrashic traditions.

1. He is thrown into a fiery furnace.
2. G‑d tells him to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.
3. Immediately after his arrival in the Promised Land, he encounters a famine.
4. The Egyptians seize his beloved wife, Sarah, and bring her to Pharaoh.
5. He faces incredible odds in the battle of the four and five kings.
6. He is told by G‑d that his children will be strangers in a strange land.13
7. G‑d tells him to circumcise himself at an advanced age.
8. The king of Gerar captures Sarah, intending to take her for himself.
9. G‑d tells him to send away Hagar and her son, Ishmael.
10. Abraham is told by G‑d to sacrifice his dear son Isaac upon an altar.

Should you want to do more research, you can find more lists in Midrash Tehillim,14 Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer,15 Avot d’Rabbi Natan,16 and the commentary of the Meiri on Ethics of Our Fathers.

Footnotes
1.

5:3.

2.

Commentary to the Mishnah ad loc.

11.

Reflected in G‑d’s commandment ibid.

14.

Two lists are cited, one on chapter 18 and another on chapter 95.

15.

26.

16.

33.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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S. Lewin July 5, 2015

Abraham's ten tests Of the three list that I encountered, I noticed Abraham's arguing with God about Sodom and Gomorrah was not present on any of them.

S. Lewin Reply

Anonymous June 15, 2014

please add the hebrew Please can you add the hebrew Reply

anonamous LONDON January 28, 2014

could you please write the sources of rabbi ovadia version? Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal January 7, 2014

To Shterni As you can see in the second footnote, it is in his commentary to the mishhah, known as Pirush Hamishnayos. Reply

Shterni London January 7, 2014

I am doing an assignment on the Ten Tests, and I needed to find two differing opinions and provide the Hebrew sources. Where did you find Rambam's opinion? Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal October 21, 2013

To Martin You write that Abraham and Sarah divorced. However, the text does not state that. Rather we are told that he want to Beersheba and she died in Hebron.

So what are we to make of the two ciites? According to one approach, Beersheba was home to both of them, and she died in Hebron, where she had gone to discover the whereabouts of her son. When she was informed that he was on an altar about to be killed, she died of shock. According to others, they lived in Hebron at the time, and Abraham's settling in Beersheba was actually after he buried his wife in Hebron. Reply

Marty Denver October 20, 2013

Divorce We see that after the binding of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah divorced: Reference Gen 22:19 it says Abraham settled in Beersheva and in Gen 23:2 we see Sarah lived in Hebron. After all those years together, that must have been tough, another "test". Reply

Anonymous October 19, 2013

In my text it says "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon of the mountains of which I shall tell you" Is G-d not asking Avraham to sacrifice Isaac? And did not Avraham lay his son on the wood and took in his hand the fire and knife......when G-d then called out and stopped him? I see Number 10 as a truth which is in the Torah! Reply

Rick Geiger pittsford October 17, 2013

Wrong on Number 10 You are wrong about number 10. God did not tell Abraham to sacrifice Issac...he told Abraham to plan for the sacrifice of Issac. There is a very big difference. And the test was not whether or not Abraham would do what Hashem told him to do...of course he would; no the test was could Abraham perform what Hashem told him to do while he, Abraham, had a closed heart, ateemos halev, in other words could Abraham do what was asked of him without having the internal feeling that he was doing the right thing. That was the test. Issac was never going to be sacrificed. Reply

Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
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