Avrohom Ovinu, in last week’s parsha, passed all the tests Hashem gave him. There are different opinions about what the ten tests were, especially which was the first. Some begin with Nimrod’s fiery furnace, others start with Lech Lecha, leaving his father’s home and the place where he came from at Hashem’s command. Even within this test, some learn that the test was not his willingness to go but that he should go purely for the intention of fulfilling Hashem’s command, disregarding His promises of children, wealth and a good name if he went. However nearly all the mefarshim agree that the Akeida was the tenth and final test, after which the malach said, “Now I know that you fear Hashem.” (Bereishis 22:12). But Rabbeinu Yona (Pirkei Avos 5:3) holds that the final test was the burial of Soroh in this week’s parsha. He doesn’t say the death of Soroh but having to pay for a burial plot for her. Was that so difficult? Rabbeinu Yona explains that Avrohom Ovinu had been promised the land of Canaan by Hashem, yet now he has to pay four hundred shekels to Efron for one cave. But a further explanation is still necessary. Logically, the tests must go in an ascending order of difficulty. After Avrohom Ovinu had passed the test of the Akeida, surely finding a burial plot for Soroh, whilst frustrating, and even though Eretz Canaan had been promised to him, was not more difficult. Why was this, the last and most difficult test of Avrohom Ovinu?
Customs differ whether we say Ein Kelokeinu and Pitom Haketores every day or just on Shabbos. But according to everyone, Ein Keilokeinu precedes Pitom Haketores. In his commentary of the Rosh Hashono machzor Reb Chaim Kanievsky shlita asks why we say them in this order. The Ramo (132:2) mentions saying Pitom Haketores after davening and saying Ein Keilokeinu first but doesn’t explain why that should be the order. The Nodah B”Yehuda (1:10) explains that we learn in Meseches Yuma that the one who won the right to prepare the ketores could never participate in the lottery for this part of the Avoda again. Preparing the ketores is a segula to become wealthy. Therefore it was only fair that once has person has had this segula once, others should now have a chance. Before we say this segula for wealth, says the Nodah B’Yehudah, we should recall that it is not the ketores which make a person wealthy but Ein Keilokeinu, only Hashem who makes a person wealthy.
Perhaps we can expand this Nodeh B’Yehuda to explain a Rashi in Parshas Korach (Bamidbar 17:11).”The Malach Hamaves gave Aharon Hakohein the secret that ketores stops a plague.” But it seems unlikely that the secret was just this simple fact that the ketores can remove a plague? A “secret” implies some more profound dimension.
Every one of us is afraid of the Malach Hamaves. If he appears, we’d better do teshuva quickly. Special people like Rav Ashi (Moed Koton 28a) can ask the Malach Hamaves for thirty extra days to review Shas; but for everybody else, the priority is to say vidui and prepare for our journey. But the Malach Hamoves is only a messenger (Chagiga 5b). A person dies when it is Hashem’s will. Perhaps this is what the Malach Hamaves told Aharon Hakohen. If you think that the ketores has power, you will not achieve anything. It is only a messenger of Hashem. You need to know this “secret” to be able to stop the plague.
The wife of Reb Yechezkel Sarna, the Rosh Hayeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva wrote about a truly amazing miracle which happened to her during the Holocaust. As the Nazis were storming her town, she managed to escape and hide in a nearby forest. After a day or two without food she realized that she would not last much longer and walked further. Suddenly she noticed an imposing house and ran up to the front door, hoping that the owner would have mercy on her. After a servant opened the door, she was taken in to see the owner of the house who was no less than the commander of the Nazi troops who were rampaging her town. He stared at her and asked “How did you get in? At the gate are my soldiers who guard me and they have dogs which are ready to dismember any unauthorized person who comes in. She answered, “It must have been a miracle from my G-d.” The commander laughed cynically. “If your G-d can save you once, let Him save you again. Walk back down the path but this time I will be watching. I’m sure that my dogs will pounce on you and eat you alive. If by any chance you do survive, I will write you a pass, saying that no-one may hurt you and you can go anywhere you want.” As he assembled all his servants to watch and enjoy the spectacle of a Jewish girl being eaten alive by his dogs, she davened as never before, pleading with Hashem to save her. She walked down the path with her head high, still davening. Every person watching, anticipating the gruesome sight of the girl being mauled to death was utterly dumbfounded as she reached the gate safely . The commander kept his word and wrote a note for safe passage. She managed to reach Switzerland, later came to Eretz Yisroel, married Reb Yechezkel Sarna and had a key role, herself, in the development of the Yeshiva.
Nearly fifty years ago I heard a shiur by Reb Mattisyahu Salamon shlita who explained the final test of Avrohom Ovinu according to Rebeinu Yona. If Hashem commands a Jew to do something, he will, of course, do it. If we were forced to choose between converting and being thrown into a raging fire we would declare, “Throw me into the fire.” We are descendants of Avrohom Ovinu — sacrificing ourselves to sanctify Hashem’s name is in our genes. But if a business deal falls through or the freezer breaks down or we are running late and every traffic light is red, we can easily become annoyed. If we have to deal with annoying bureacracy or our children aren’t behaving or our spouse has forgotten something (s)he promised to do, we can ‘lose it’. Avrohom Ovinu’s final test was having to deal with an Ephron, reneging on his agreement, and wasting precious time talking to the Bnei Cheis when all he wanted was to bury Soroh. His challenge was to remember that Hashem orchestrates every detail of our lives. Every moment of frustration is also min hashamayim. Whatever we are doing, in times of conflict or peace, success or failure — ein od milvado, there is nothing besides Hashem. Ein Keilokeinu – There is nothing like our G-d. Remembering this at all times is sometimes harder than an Akeida.