The Midrash asks, “Which of Avraham Avinu’s challenges was harder—the first or the last?” What a strange question! How is that a question at all? Can one compare the challenge of slitting a precious son’s throat to that of travelling nomadically for a while? But if Chazal ask this question, there’s a reason for that. They want to teach us something that may not look so clear to us from the outset. Yes, sacrificing a child is a challenge of great magnitude, but Lech Lecha was nowhere near easy either— Avraham had no idea when the nisayon would end, and the waiting game is a challenge of tremendous magnitude as well.
The great Choni Hamagel was never able to understand how am Yisrael would endure the harrowing wait for the Geulah. “Kol yamai hayiti mitz’taer al hapasuk,” all my life I’ve found it hard to understand the pasuk, he would say, “V’shuv Hashem et shivat tzion hayinu k’cholmim,” that when the Geulah would finally come, all of our previous pains would look to us like a dream. “I can’t believe that,” he would say, “I can’t wait that long.” Choni was accustomed to standing in the circle that he formed with his stick, asking Hashem for rain, and watching it happen instantaneously; he didn’t appreciate the concept of waiting—until he fell into the 70 year sleep, that is. For 70 years, between the Bayit Rishon and Bayit Sheini, Choni Hamagel slept. Because he couldn’t bare to wait, Hashem gave him the opportunity to sleep through it all, and to then awaken to a new world, a world in which he was recognized by no one, not even his own son.
When he saw that the carob sapling whose planting stages he’d observed right before falling asleep had grown into a gigantic, fruitful tree, he said to Hashem, “I don’t want to live anymore.” It was at that moment that Choni came to the realization that he hadn’t understood the beauty of lech lecha until then. No, you don’t go to sleep until the wait is over. That is not the way to deal with a challenge. We must push ourselves through this lech lecha in order to emerge victorious. Like our forefather Avraham, we must persevere and trudge along the journey whose end is not in sight if we want to reap its benefits. And what are the benefits of this arduous lech lecha journey? Of course, we constantly beseech Hashem, lo al yedei nisayon, we don’t want to be tested, but if lo aleinu, Hashem chooses to do otherwise, what do we stand to gain from thrusting the stick into the ground and carrying on? First, we discover the good people in our lives.
During a time of challenge, who our real friends are becomes clear to us. Before he was confronted by Hashem with the ten nisyonot, Avraham had three friends: Aner, Eshkol, and Mamrei. Why did Hashem choose to speak to him at Elonei Mamrei and not near the others? Because Mamrei was Avraham’s only real friend, he discovered through his challenges. Mamrei was the only one to encourage him to perform a brit milah, as is evident in his name. While Mamrei’s name contains the acronyms for “Mul maher, rofacha Elokim—Hurry to circumcise, Hashem will be your doctor,” Aner is the acronym for “Anui nefesh ra— Milah is torture. Stay away,” and Eshkol’s reaction was “Ein shaveh klum lamol—Milah is not worthwhile.” Yet another benefit from the arduous challenge of lech lecha, of waiting endlessly with emunah, is what it does to your marriage.
After much wandering, Avraham turned to Sarah and said, Hinei zeh yadati ki isha yefat mareh at, “I now discovered what a beautiful woman you are.” Only then did he see her beauty for the first time? Explains Rashi, that Avraham turned to Sarah and said that during a long lech lecha a woman loses her beauty, but you, my wife, stayed beautiful because yafah means yah poh, Hashem is with you. “Because you spoke to Hashem all this time,” Avraham said to Sarah, “You came out strong from this challenge and you’re so much more beautiful in my eyes.”
Unfortunately, a challenge can easily unravel the threads of a marriage, especially when fingers are pointed. But when a husband and wife transcend beyond their pain and they strengthen themselves with emunah, working together to encourage and support one another during those difficult moments of anguish, the relationship reaches new levels that would otherwise be unattainable. And the last precious jewel a wanderer can find on her lech lecha travails we learn from our Mother Rochel, whose yahrzeit is this week, 11 Cheshvan. There is no woman in the world who traveled a longer journey than she. First, she waited for her zivug; then, for the birth of her first child. Nothing came easily to our Mother Rochel—not even her burial.
For every gift in her life, Rochel had to wait; who if not she could teach us about the power of tefillat haderech? When the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakadoshim on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, he said a short tefillah for am Yisrael—that no woman miscarry, that the nation be blessed with bounty and that shelo tishmah tefillat ovrei derachim l’inyan hageshem, that Hashem shouldn’t answer the prayers of those travellers who are asking for the rain to cease. On the holiest day of the year, the Kohen Gadol found this so important to pray for? Yes, because the tefillah of someone who’s on the derech is so precious in the eyes of the Ribbono shel Olam.
The prayer of someone who’s being challenged with lech lecha, of a Jew who’s subjected to the pain of indefinite waiting—be it for a zivug, a child, the return of a lost son, parnasah, a refuah, or a yeshuah of any kind—reaches a special place in Shamayim. Rochel Imeinu’s yahrzeit is always during the same week that we start to recite v’ten tal umatar livrachah in Eretz Yisrael because her message to us is so strong. Keep praying, my dear children, she says to us. Don’t forget that the tefillah of an over derech has enormous power! And when you are on your lech lecha journey, groping in the dark, she reminds us, don’t worry: yesh sechar lifulatech, you will see that your tefillot will not only help you, but they will help all of am Yisrael. Yehi ratzon that all of those who are traversing long, winding roads will finally reach their menuchah. V’shavu banim ligvulam.