by Rabbi Shimon Mordechai Cohen
What is the defining characteristic of a nisayon — a test from Hashem? The Maharal writes (Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 6, 9) that in a nisayon , even a tzaddik of the caliber of Avraham will not experience closeness to Hashem. You will feel all alone. You will not be helped from Above in choosing your response. Hashem put you in this situation because He knows that you have what it takes to make the right choice, by yourself.
Through this process of testing, Hashem allows an individual to discover his or her own greatness; to become deserving of reward. But you have to be ready. Despite all that can be gained from succeeding in a nisayon, we actually pray "ואל תביאנו לידי נסיון — Do not bring us into a nisayon.” We are obligated to avoid situations that would test us spiritually. And yet, when such a situation is upon us, with all the loneliness that we may feel, there is a message behind that loneliness: “I know that you can do it.”
A nisayon can be compared to an exam. An exam must be held in conditions that ensure that it is you who are being tested, not your neighbor, your notes or your friend on the phone. There is one important difference, however.
Imagine that you are sitting a most important exam. Gracing the hall with his presence is the chief examiner himself, his eagle eyes on every candidate. Very soon, it dawns on you that you haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer a key question. What would happen if you’d raise your hand, and blurt out “Sir, what’s the answer to question 16?”
A nisayon is not like that. We can always, always, turn to Hashem for help. That may be the very act of bechirah (free choice) He was waiting for. The Chazon Ish taught that praying for Divine assistance is itself an act of bechirah . Hashem is always there for us. Even when we are truly alone, because it’s a nisayon, if we make the first move by turning to Hashem for help, He will respond.
A nisayon (test) is Hashem’s vote of confidence in you
The choice to ask your Rav for guidance is also an act of bechirah. Maybe the whole point of the nisayon was so that you’d recognize that you do sometimes need advice; you don’t know it all. The credit for that recognition goes to you. And don’t forget to follow through with what the Rav tells you!
A nisayon is Hashem’s vote of confidence in you. It is a journey to the real you. And yet, at the time, you will be all alone. Avraham Avinu showed the way. He was given the title Avinu, our father, because he bequeathed the ability to face nisyonos fearlessly and with success to Am Yisrael (Ruach Chaim, Avos 5, 3.) When faced with a nisayon; when you feel alone, confused, bewildered, know that now is your chance to discover your true self. You did not ask for the test. But now that it is upon you, rise to the challenge, and discover what the true you is all about.
Rabbi Shimon Mordechai Cohen is a graduate of Gateshead Yeshiva and Kollel Zichron Shaul, Gateshead. He is the author of The Majesty of Rosh HaShanah (Mosaica Press) and a regular contributor of Torah articles to the London Jewish Tribune.