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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Lech Le'cha 5770
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Dear Cecil

I've noticed that when people want to "prove" that humans are capable of amazing things under stress, they often cite the 90-pound mother who lifts a car off her trapped child. I know humans can do incredible things, like the guy who chopped his own hand off to get free from a fallen boulder, but have mothers really hoisted cars? Has anyone actually seen this happen or is it an urban legend? Are we talking about a Yugo here or a 1956 Caddy? Let me know soon, I'm trying to walk more these days, and if I get run over I need to know whether to call mom or a tow truck.

The woman's name is Angela Cavallo, and she still lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where the incident happened on April 9, 1982. (An Associated Press account didn't appear till April 14, but Angela remembers the date because it was Good Friday.) Her then-teenage son Tony had a 1964 Chevy Impala jacked up in the driveway--he'd removed the rear suspension spring (which holds up the rear of the car) and was working on it.

A neighborhood kid burst into the kitchen door to tell Angela there'd been an accident. She rushed out to find Tony pinned under the car--something had been stuck and in trying to loosen it he'd rocked the car off the jack. Now he was clamped between the top of the rear wheel and the fender. All she could see of him was from the waist down. Ancient Chevies being big ol' cars with a lot of room around the wheels, Tony wasn't immediately crushed. But he was out cold.

Hollering to the neighbor kid to get help, Angela grabbed the side of the car with both hands and pulled up with all her strength. The AP account said she raised the car four inches; she doubts it was that much but believes it was enough to take the pressure off. She recalls nothing about the rescue, but the AP said two neighbors reinserted the jack and dragged the boy out. (Tony recovered OK.) Angela, then in her late 50s, guesses she kept the car propped up for five minutes. She describes herself as 5-foot-8, large-framed and strong, but figures she couldn't have picked the car up under normal circumstances, attributing her feat to adrenaline. (Thanks to journalist Mariana Minaya for providing the AP story.)

By Cecil Adams[1]

Avrohom Avinu was undoubtedly the founder of Klal Yisroel. Employing his intellect and an innate sense of truth he ‘discovered’ G-d, as it were. Then he dedicated his life to perpetuating the Word of G-d and to living a life of holiness and goodness.

Part of the greatness of Avrohom was that he was not born at the top of the spiritual ladder. In fact, he came from humble beginnings. His father Terach was an idol wholesaler who betrayed him to the nefarious King Nimrod because of Avrohom’s monotheistic preaching. But Avrohom was able to ‘pull himself up by the bootstraps’ undeterred. He was committed not only to seeking out the truth but also to teaching it to the masses.

The Mishnah (Avos 5:4) relates, “Our forefather Avrohom was tested with ten trials, and he withstood all of them, to make known how beloved Avrohom Avinu was.”

The vernacular of the Mishnah seems somewhat vague. The Mishnah does not say that the ten tests proved Avrohom’s loyalty but rather that they “made known” how beloved he was. Who was informed and “made known” about how beloved Avrohom was via the ten tests?

Ramban (22:1) explains that G-d does not test because He is unsure of the outcome, for G-d knows all that will happen. Rather, it’s called a test from the vantage point of the tested party. G-d creates such situations so that the tested individual will be compelled to exercise his latent greatness, and to bring it “from the potential to the actual, so that he should have the reward of a good deed, and not only a good heart.” The Ramban concludes that every test mentioned in the Torah was for the benefit of the tested party.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l expresses this idea in a similar manner. He writes that the same G-d Who revealed Himself to Avrohom and had promised him that Yitzchok would be his future “nosoh” (tested) Avrohom. Rabbi Hirsch explains that “nosoh” is similar to the words “nosah”, (moving on), “nosais” (flinging away), and “noseh” (to raise up). All three connote goading something to a higher position. In the same vein, every test is a step forward, a strengthening of powers which already exist but as of yet remain latent. The test is the conduit which forces those strengths to emerge.

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr[2] shlita explains that the purpose of the tests was to prove to Avrohom himself about his own greatness. He quotes the verse[3] “To teach the children of man his greatness.” The simple understanding of the verse is that it refers to G-d; “To inform human beings of His Mighty Deeds”. However, it can also be understood as a reference to man, “To inform a human being of his (own) mighty deeds”. In other words, the purpose of challenges and tests is that it is G-d’s way of forcing us to realize our own greatness and worthiness.

Avrohom Avinu knew that he had reached great levels of righteousness and accomplishment. But every time he overcame another divinely ordained challenge it proved that he was greater and more capable than he himself had realized, and that encouraged him to strive even higher.

This idea is true not only in regards to Avrohom but to every person. The Meor Aynayim[4] writes that every Jew undergoes some semblance of the Ten Tests of Avrohom throughout his/her lifetime. The verse in Tehillim (60:6) states, “You have given those who fear You a banner to raise themselves.” Rashi explains that the word "neis" refers to "nisayon" a test. Thus the verse is saying, “You have tested us in many trying situations in order to provide us with the opportunity "le’hesnoseis" to be proven faithful in all circumstances.” Although we may not be too excited about the tests of life, it is the vicissitudes that we encounter that help us realize our greatness and capabilities that we would otherwise never believe we possess.

Rabbi Dr. Avrohom Twerki often relates the great lesson that we can learn from lobsters. On one occasion, while sitting in a doctor’s office, he came across an article entitled, "How Do Lobsters Grow?" The article asked, if lobsters are soft animals that live inside a rigid shell, and the shell does not expand, how can a lobster increase its size?

The answer is that as the lobster grows, its shell indeed becomes confining and oppressive. The lobster retreats to an underwater rock formation where it is protected from predatory fish, sheds its shell, and produces a larger and more spacious one. Eventually, this larger shell becomes uncomfortably confining, and the lobster repeats this process several times until it reaches its maximum size.

During the stage when it is without its shell, the lobster is in great danger. A predatory fish may eat it, or a strong current may dash it against a rock. In order to grow, the lobster must risk its very life.

The point to note is that the stimulus that enables the lobster to grow is discomfort. If not for the discomfort, the lobster would never expand its shell!

Science and technology have eliminated many sources of discomfort. Many people think there should be no discomfort in life, and if someone is uncomfortable, there must be a pill to relieve it. We seem to have lost a tolerance for discomfort, not realizing that discomfort may be a signal to us that we should grow.

Discomfort, challenges, tests, and tribulations are all unwelcomed visitors in life. But our Patriarchs have taught us that one must realize that it is only through vistas of challenge that we truly discover ourselves and realize how much endurance, perseverance, capabilities, and value we inherently possess.

“To make known how beloved Avrohom Avinu was.”

“To inform a human being of his mighty deeds”

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[2] Halekach V’halibuv (Pirkei Avos)

[3] recited thrice daily in ‘Ashrei’

[4] quoted in Nesivas Shalom

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