God only tests those He loves (Shabbos 98)

Our patriarch Avraham didn’t have an easy life.  Time and again, he experienced trials and tribulations, which would have led most people to give up on their relationship with Heaven.

He faced exile on multiple occasions, as he was forced to move from Mesopotamia to Canaan, and then to Egypt and Philistia.  He was pressured into banishing Hagar, and later, Hagar and Yishmael.  He was asked to sacrifice his son, Yitzchak, the child he was granted at age 100.

His wife, Sarah, was taken by Pharaoh and Avimelech.  He was informed that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years.  He was thrown into a fiery furnace for renouncing idolatry.  And he was instructed to self-circumcise, aged 99.

And yet, he persevered in his commitment and dedication to the Almighty and his mission of spreading the message of monotheism and morality throughout the world.  What was the secret of his incredible tenacity?

תָּנָא דְּבֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: לְמָה מִשְׁכָּן דּוֹמֶה — לְאִשָּׁה שֶׁמְהַלֶּכֶת בַּשּׁוּק וְשִׁפּוּלֶיהָ מְהַלְּכִין אַחֲרֶיהָ.

It was taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: To what may the Mishkan (Tabernacle) be compared?  To a woman walking in the marketplace with her dress train (shipuleha) going after her.

The Mishkan was the original central house of worship, the precursor to the Holy Temple.  It was constructed in the Wilderness and then brought into the Promised Land where it was located in various places at different times.  Its primary abode in Israel was Shiloh, where it remained for many years.  During the Mishkan’s years as a portable synagogue, one of its accoutrements was a covering that was spread over it.  In light of the fact that the material was not precisely made-to-measure, but hung over the Mishkan onto the ground, the Gemara compares it to the train of a dress.

What is the purpose of a train on a dress?  Nowadays, we only really see dresses with trains on brides and the red carpet, but in bygone eras, trains on everyday dresses were more common.  Trains were a mark of affluence.  It demonstrated that the wearer had an overabundance of wealth, to the extent that they could even allow extra material to trail behind them.  In the Victorian era, an added dimension saw the wearer followed by an individual who would carry the train, thus reinforcing the picture of wealth she sought to portray.

We have a similar idea each Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night).  When one pours the wine for Havdalah, it is customary to fill the wine up to the rim, such that it overflows slightly (M”A 296).  The overflow symbolizes our prayers for overflowing blessing in the home.

The Imrei Avraham explains the significance of the Mishkan’s train slightly differently.  We are bidden (Deut.13), “After Hashem your God shall you walk.”  When life is good, it’s easy to follow God.  During the dark days, however, the challenge to follow Him is greater.  We try so hard to be righteous and Torah observant, and yet, sometimes it can feel as if He is simply not present.

During those times, says the Imrei Avraham, remember that “Hashem is your guardian, Hashem is your shadow.”  A shadow may appear in front of a person or behind them.  You might not be seeing the Almighty’s providence right now, because the shadow is right behind you.  Rest assured, however, that your Guardian never leaves you alone.

That’s why the Gemara likens the Mishkan’s covering to the train of a dress.  The word for her train (shipuleha) is derived from the word ‘shafal,’ meaning lowly.  We all experience high points and low points in our lives.  During those low points, it’s tempting to question where Hashem has disappeared to.  But, of course, the answer is that He is right there with you.  He might not be in front of your eyes, but He is right behind you, giving you a little push to get through the trying times.

An onlooker who is unfamiliar with the prominence associated with a train might wonder who would let their clothing drag along the ground.  They would conclude erroneously that the wearer of the train could not afford properly fitting clothing.  Of course, they would be completely wrong.  Rather than representing inadequacy, the train on the dress symbolizes overabundance!

When it feels like God is trailing behind, don’t lose hope.  The appearance of lowliness in your life is only so to the untrained eye.  In actuality, that train represents your incredible wealth.  Our Sages teach (Pirkei Avot 5:4) that Avraham was administered ten unbelievably challenging tests, “in order to demonstrate God’s love for him.”

God tests the individual He knows will have the strength to overcome the test.  There’s little point challenging a person with trials and tribulations if they are bound to fail the test.  He tests those who will embrace the challenges and utilize them as opportunities for growth and the deepening of their faith and heavenly relationship.  Every test that Avraham endured made him stronger, psychologically and spiritually.

If life’s challenges seem overwhelming, it is a sign of God’s love for you.  He knows that you have the inner power to overcome the difficulties.  Don’t Be-Come Over-Whelmed.  Well-Come the challenges, as Wealth and Wellness Will Come when you Over-Come the challenges. Hashem loves you and wants to demonstrate your incredible strength to the world, to his angels, and, above all, to you, yourself.

Very soon, the Almighty will reveal Himself and you will experience an overabundance of His bounty.  The key is to remain in faith and never cease walking in His footsteps.  May you see every challenge as an opportunity for growth and may He bless you with overflow and overabundance in every facet of your life!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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