To Be a Jew

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Abraham was already perfected; obviously God knew this. What gain then was served by God “testing” Abraham with many ordeals?

Tests or trials were not for Abraham’s benefit, nor for God. God’s purpose in testing Abraham was to teach the world man’s great potential (Rabbi Israel Chait explaining Maimonides on Trials, “Pirkei Avos 5/6” pg 39). For God created man with great abilities: to engage his mind to observe and discover…to uncover truths about creation. This includes knowledge of God’s will, physical sciences, psychology, philosophy, justice and morality. Abraham probed all God’s creations and discovered God’s brilliance permeates all that exists. Abraham led a life of intellectual and moral perfection. Therefore, God recorded his perfections in Genesis. 

But why does Bible document people? Why isn’t it simply a list of laws? Rabbi Israel Chait taught that although other philosophies include principles found in Torah, they do not contain models of perfected humans’ lives. The stories of great individuals educate us on the many facets of perfected human nature in interpersonal conduct, and in their intelligent considerations. These role models offer an opportunity to identify with them, to emulate them. Unlike Abraham and Sarah, it is difficult for most people to improve their character without a role model. 

The stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs—who predated Torah—are God's lessons of how capable a human being is using his raw faculties—without books, prophecy or teachers—to attain great character. For we see that Abraham and Sarah reached great levels of intelligence and moral perfection prior to receiving prophecy, while also amidst a world steeped in idolatry. Such great personalities reveal how perfect are God’s human creations; He created man with stupendous potential. Abraham, Sarah and the other matriarchs and patriarchs teach this by example.

Bible is therefore not a book of laws, but a system through which God offers man the best direction to perfect himself. This system contains laws which are structured with great wisdom. This system also profiles portions of the lives of great individuals, and sinners. Laws offer us appreciation for God’s great intelligence and morality, guiding us to truths, and to peaceful societies. Role models offer us inspiration for meeting the challenge to adhere to God’s will in daily life. 

Being Jewish means to meticulously follow God’s Biblical will, for our own good. Great individuals arrived at God’s will without Bible, as they actually form Bible. They are eternal models to mankind of the great raw potential we each possess. But few people in a generation attain such character, explaining the need for Bible to help guide most of mankind.  

Follow our role models Abraham and Sarah who dedicated their lives to teaching others about God and His will for mankind (Gen. 12:8, 13:4, 21:33, 26:26, Rashi Gen. 12:5). Each of us can influence others in some measure. Think about who you can help, and strive to do so. This is truly what it means to be a Jew, explaining why God highlights personalities and formed His nation from Abraham.