Avraham Avinu, the first of our forefathers (Abraham), was tested ten times during his life and passed each time. As his descendents, we have inherited some of his strength to overcome the various tests and challenges that life throws our way.
The challenges take on many forms: a sick family member, an annoying neighbor, an economic struggle. Problems and difficulties are part and parcel of our life here on earth. But why? What is the point of it all? And why does it sometimes seem as though life is but one big struggle through a field of difficulties?
On a basic level a challenge is a test. A way of determining our true colors in life.
Am I really the calm and patient person I pride myself on being even when two of my kids are fighting, my cell phone is ringing, a bottle of juice is leaking and the cashier is signaling that I should pay immediately? Am I the courteous employee I think I am even on the day that I've been stuck in three quarters of an hour of traffic in ninety three degree weather and have my fiancées parents coming over in the evening for some "serious talk"? Do I pass these tests or do I fail them? Am I who I claim to be, who I strive to be, who I wish to be?
Life's challenges are the yardstick with which we measure ourselves. Overcoming a struggle with dignity is like getting an A on the progress report of life.
And then there's the deeper aspect of a challenge. It's not only about who we were but rather it's about whom will become. Latent talents are revealed at times of extreme pressure. Hidden strengths are called for and exposed when life's about to cave in, when things are about to collapse. When a child takes ill, when a parent dies, the most beautiful parts within come out—or not. It's a choice we are forced into making.
Everyone's heard of at least story in which a human being revealed above-human strengths during a crisis. Like the woman who lifted a car to rescue her baby, alone. With her own two hands. Strength she wasn't aware that she possessed came to the fore in her struggle to save her son.
Life's tests change us. We become different people afterwards. For better or for worse, challenges mold us. The more difficult a test, the greater the slope, the higher the peek, the more potential for change. For positive change.
And yet there are the people who fail: the people who cower and fall when a life rock is hurled their way. Which is why in our daily prayers we say, "Don't bring us to be tested". We don't want to be challenged. We don't want any life tests thrown our way. But if they are, may we overcome them with dignity and respect like our forefather Avraham.