L’Shem Shamayim

Hashem said to Abram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Beresheet 12:1)

The command to Abram to take his entourage to a foreign land and to sever ties with his family and his home is counted among the Ten Tests of Abraham. Abraham was 75 years old and Sarah was 65 when the command was given, making the trial even more difficult. After discovering his Creator at a young age, Abram began a career of introducing others to his discovery and bringing others to serve Hashem. Moving at this time would be difficult and more than likely set his life’s work back a great deal. Yet, Hashem promised him even greater success and good fortune should he follow His command. In addition, Abram was promised the fulfillment of his greatest wish — children!

This sounds like an “offer one can’t refuse!” Fame, business success and children — all contingent on traveling to wherever Hashem should direct him. Rashi succinctly expounds on the seemingly unnecessary word “lecha — for yourself” as meaning “for your pleasure and for your benefit!”

Wherein lies the test?

Harav Yaakov Neiman (Darchei Mussar, Lech Lecha) says that although it is true that Hashem promised all the above benefits to Abram, the test was to see if Abram would be able to overcome his natural inclination to satisfy his desires and go purely because Hashem commanded him to go. The Torah indicates that Abram succeeded in passing this test, where it states (12:4), “So Abram went as Hashem had commanded him.” He left home — not for personal gain, but rather because Hashem had so commanded. His nephew Lot went “with him” — not for the sake of Heaven, but instead to wait for Abram to die so that he could inherit his 75-year-old uncle’s fortune.

In the month of Tishrei, Jews are commanded to fast on the 10th of the month — Yom Kippur. They are also commanded to eat in abundance on the day preceding the fast — the 9th of Tishrei. It is without question that everyone who observes the fast is doing so because Hashem so commanded. Their actions are, therefore, purely for the sake of Heaven, l’Shem Shamayim. On the contrary, while indulging in food on the 9th of the month, staying focused on the command of Heaven rather than a desire to enjoy eating is difficult indeed. The rule is that the more personal gain or pleasure is entailed in the performance of a mitzvah — the more difficult it is to do it l’Shem Shamayim. Therefore, Abram’s test, which promised all of his heart’s desires in return, was extremely difficult to do purely for the “sake of Heaven.” The passuk testifies that Abram indeed performed as Hashem had demanded.

A story is told about a rich man who sought a groom for his daughter. He traveled to the yeshivah in Volozhin and, with the Rosh Yeshivah’s permission, proposed a difficult question to the students. He promised that the one who could answer would win his daughter in marriage. Student after student offered answers, but none was correct. The next morning, the rich man left in his ornate carriage to return home, disappointed that he had not found the young man he was seeking. After his carriage was out of the city limits, he heard a voice screaming, “The answer! The answer!” He ordered his driver to halt and wait for the young man who was running after them.

When the fellow arrived, panting and out of breath, he could hardly repeat the words. “The answer.”

The rich man said, “So, what is the answer, young man?”

The young man replied, “I don’t know the answer. I ran after your carriage to find out what is the answer.”

No reward! No life of learning supported by a wealthy father-in-law. Just pure desire to know the answer to a Torah question. Truly l’Shem Shamayim.

“You, young man, are the one I am looking for!” said the wealthy man happily.

This was the test of Abram and this is our test as well. Knowing and trusting that Hashem is trustworthy to reward good deeds, we must strive to focus on His command rather than our benefit. May it come to pass that all of our deeds are l’Shem Shamayim.

Shabbat shalom!