Passing G-d's Tests
The Children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and
multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty. The land was filled with them.
Kabbalah teaches that a person should never enter a test without permission
from Heaven. It doesn’t mean a test at school, it means a spiritual test.
That is, that someone should never put himself into a spiritually
compromising situation unless that is where he ends up due to no negligence
of his own. In the process of trying to do the right thing, he finds himself
in a place that can easily test his spiritual mettle.
The reason why is somewhat obvious. Who really knows himself so well that he
can take his yetzer hara head on and withstand the test. Great people have
succumbed to the machinations of their yetzer haras, so why should lesser
people take similar risks?
On the other hand, if God tests you by placing you in spiritually
challenging situations, we are told, not only can we pass the test, but God
will even help us to pass it if we turn to Him for assistance. A Divinely
orchestrated spiritual test is designed to allow a person to pass, if he
makes a reasonable effort to succeed. In this manner, God encourages people
to grow spiritually and can likewise reward them for their successes.
If so, then one might ask the question: Why did we fail the test in Egypt?
We did not go down there of our own volition, but were sent there by God
Himself. He even encouraged Ya’akov Avinu, who had serious doubts about
entering the home of the yetzer hara in Creation at that time to go down
there. That being the case, we should have been able to pass the test, and
not have assimilated.
There are a couple answers to this question, but one of them is that what we
define as passing a test and what God calls passing a test is not always the
same thing. It’s nice when we can get through a spiritual difficulty in the
ideal way, but life doesn’t always allow for that, especially given the
nature of some people’s souls.
On the surface, all of us seem pretty much the same. Physically, we may all
be different, and intelligence level varies from person to person, but
overall, we’re all pretty much the same. That’s why we get so angry at
people who break the law; we wouldn’t do it, so how can they?
No question that there is a certain common denominator to all mankind. On
the other hand, every soul is different, and it is the soul, in essence,
that drives a person. And, depending upon which body a soul is paired up
with, a person can be driven to do very good, or very bad, and God takes
that into account when judging everyone.
For example, a person may have a soul that can make stealing from others
easy, and when such a person holds himself back from stealing large things
and restricts himself to stealing small and trivial items, it can impress
Heaven. He is doing the best he can to be the best he can be given the
nature of his soul, and body.
On the other hand, when a person with a high level soul does something nice,
but with only half a heart, Heaven may not be impressed at all. The action
may be well received by others, and earn the person some accolades, but
Heaven might be saying, “You have such a good natured soul and that’s all
you put into your mitzvos?”
Then, of course, there are the circumstances. Sometime the circumstances in
which we find ourselves bring out so much good in us that even we don’t
recognize ourselves. The opposite is also true: sometimes the circumstances
can bring out the worst in us, and we don’t want to recognize ourselves. God
takes that into account as well when judging us.
There is a story in the Talmud of a certain rabbi from the Second Temple Era
who spoke about Menashe HaMelech somewhat disrespectfully. After all,
Menashe, the son of the righteous Chizkiah, turned the country to idol
worship for 33 years, after his father spent all of his time and effort
turning the people towards God. Only towards the end of his reign did he
finally do teshuvah.
That night, Menashe visited the rabbi in his dream and criticized him for
speaking disrespectfully about him. He even asked the rabbi a halachic
question, which he could not answer, earning him some instant respect, and
the question: “If you were such a talmid chacham, why did you worship idols
and turn the country to idol worship as well?”
Menashe HaMelech’s answer was somewhat surprising, especially that it is in
the Talmud itself. He told the rabbi that, had he lived in Menashe’s time,
then he too would have lifted the hem of his garment to run after the same
What the Talmud does not mention here, but it does mention elsewhere (Yoma
69b), is that in the time of the Second Temple, the rabbis prayed to have
the desire for idol worship completely removed. Apparently it was too big a
test for people of that time, and too many were violating one of the most
serious transgressions in the Torah. So the rabbis asked to have that
stumbling block moved from the world altogether, and apparently Heaven obliged.
This means that, since that time, idol worship does not really hold sway
with man, not like it used to. You know that drives for money, or illicit
relationships and pleasures, that have caused many to risk so much, and even
cheat and kill others for them? The drive for idol worship used to be
stronger, and therefore, could easily break many a good and unsuspecting man.
So, said Menashe to the rabbi: Don’t judge if you can’t do it from inside my
And, when we read about the Spies who rejected Eretz Yisroel, resulting in
an additional 39 years of wandering in the desert, we wonder, what were they
thinking? How they could reject the Land that God had taken them to, and
right before God as well. At least today there is room for some doubt about
whether or not to make aliyah, but not in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time!
However, I read years ago that the souls of the Generation of the Spies were
those which had difficulty with the concept of living in Eretz Yisroel at
that time in history. The source from which they came from in the Sefiros
still had to evolve somewhat before they could embrace the land, and
therefore it was difficult for them to consider entering the Land at that time.
So, then, why were they punished so severely? Because, they should have
realized that God was fully aware of the trouble they were experiencing, and
that the reason why they were not entering the Land at that moment was
because God knew that it was too hard for them. A lot can happen in three
days, and would have happened, and they merely returned and said, “Look,
we’re not so comfortable about entering the Land, but then again, God is
taking us there, and won’t bring us in until three days time, so let’s wait
and see how it goes then.”
After all, hadn’t God redeemed them from Egypt, given them Torah, fed them
in the desert and cared for every other need of theirs? Did He not know them
and their weaknesses better than they knew them? :If God has had our best
interest in mind until now,” all of them should have reasoned, “He must be
taking us to the Land for our own good as well, and know how difficult it is
for us to go up.”
So, they weren’t punished for their fear, or for being nervous to go to war
against the 31 kings of Canaan and to take the Land. They were punished
because, in their panic, they closed their minds and the door to Eretz
Yisroel and, in effect, had outlived their usefulness. By rejecting Eretz
Yisroel when they had, they rejected God’s plan for Creation, and signed
their own death warrants.
This is why the Jewish people are praised for not changing the language,
their clothes, and the food they ate, which does not sound like much of
deal. After all, they had fallen down to the 49th level of spiritual
impurity, so what difference did it make that they still had something to
distinguish them from the Egyptians all around them?
It made all the difference in the world to Heaven, and was the merit they
needed to be saved from spiritual oblivion. God knew their souls, and the
test that was Egypt, and though they failed to maintain the high spiritual
level on which they ancestors descended to Egypt, after 210 years it was
pretty significant that they maintained anything at all, from God’s perspective.
Likewise it says about the final generation in advance of the Messianic Era:
I will remember the land, which will have been left behind by them, enjoying
its sabbaths, lying desolate without them. The transgression of despising My
judgments and detesting My laws, will [also] have been atoned for. In spite
of all of this, even though they live in the land of their enemies, I will
not discard them, or detest them to the point of annihilating them, or void
My covenant with them, for I am God, your God. For their sake, I will
remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of
Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be their God. I am God. (Vayikra
Why shouldn’t God discard us, knowing how much we have assimilated into
foreign cultures? Because, He knows our souls, and our circumstances, and
how difficult the test it, and He takes it all into account. Not everyone
may survive, but at least those who try the best they can to be the best
they can be, will have a special place in God’s plan at the end of history.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.