Tribulations or Trials?

Our sages see the various episodes in Avraham’s life as the ten links in a chain of Divine trials [see Avot, 5:3]. His first challenge was the command to leave his home and birthplace, the last was the command to bind his beloved son as a human sacrifice [Maimonides, ibid.]. Is there significance to the number of ten trials? Based on the simple yet profound observation recorded by the commentary attributed to Rashi [ibid.] that they parallel the ten statements that God created the world with, the significance is clear: The purpose of the world is to give mankind opportunity for virtue in the face of trial and challenge.

We typically look at problems and challenges as nuisances and conveniences at best.  The sages’ perspective on Avraham’s biography reminds us that there is a very different way of looking at them.  According to their view, he didn’t live a difficult life of one crisis and problem after another until they totaled ten.  He lived a life of opportunities for growth, accomplishment, and personal advancement that eventually totaled ten.  If we had no problems and just smooth-sailed through life we would lose out on our opportunities to mature and develop our personalities.  As Scott Peck points out in his classic psychological work The Road Less Traveled, it is because of our recognition of this fact that we deliberately give students questions that they have to work out so they can acquire new knowledge, understanding, and skills.

I feel that this attitude could potentially be one of the most powerful tools that we have for living a life of peace of mind.   The more we can internalize the mindset that our problems and challenges are sent by God as opportunities for growth, the more we can avoid the negativity of feeling like victims of circumstance and enjoy the healthy state of mind that comes from facing them with a positive and optimistic spirit.

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