The Ten Tests: the Forerunner of the Ten Commandments

Our Sages, in Ethics of the Fathers, state that Abraham was tested ten times and withstood all of them.

It stands to reason that the Ten Tests administered to Abraham, the forerunner of the Jewish people, correspond to the Ten Commandments.

According to the Midrashic work Pirkei d’R. Eliezer, the first test was his belief in one G‑d. Abraham started to ponder the world around him at the young age of three and came to the realization that there is one G‑d. This of course, corresponds to the first of the Ten Statements: “I am G‑d your G‑d…”

The second test was his willingness to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than bow to the idols of King Nimrod. This parallels the second statement: “Don’t have any other g-ds in My presence.”

The third test was G‑d’s direction to leave his birthplace and travel to a new country, which eventually became the Holy Land of Israel. What the Land of Israel is relative to the rest of the world geographically is paralleled by the Shabbos, an island of holiness in time.

The fourth test was the famine that forced him to go down to Egypt with Sarah. Abraham could have taken advantage of his ownership of the land and appropriated the food of others. Yet he preferred to go down to the depraved land of Egypt with all of its attendant risks rather than succumbing to theft. Abraham demonstrated his abhorrence of theft when he eschewed having his cattle graze in the fields of others, as did the shepherds of his nephew Lot.

The fifth test was the abduction of Sarah by Pharaoh, which threatened Sarah’s chastity. The Zohar tells us that Abraham was secure that Sarah was so holy that she would not be touched by Pharaoh, and there would be no possibility that the sin of adultery would be committed. In this test, G‑d Himself assured compliance with the law against adultery. 

The sixth test was the war against the four Kings who abducted his nephew Lot. This can be said to correspond to the commandment not to commit murder. Abraham waged a war that involved killing the adversaries, to save Lot. This was not considered a violation of the commandment against murder in accordance with Jewish law that a war of defense actually saves innocent lives.

The seventh test was the Covenant Between the Pieces, which involved G‑d’s promise to Abraham. This narrative begins with G‑d declaring to Abraham “I am G‑d” which commentators say is equivalent to an oath. This parallels the third statement of not bearing G‑d’s name in vain.  Abraham believed in G‑d’s promise and knew that it would materialize so that His promise would not be in vain.

The eighth test was circumcision, which is described in the Torah as a sign of our Jewishness. Circumcision, the Zohar states, is G‑d imprinting His name on us and our testifying to G‑d’s presence in our lives.

The ninth test was Abraham acceding to Sarah’s request to have Hagar and Yishmael expelled from their house. Sarah declared that Yishmael was not going to share in Isaac’s inheritance. This relates to the tenth commandment of not coveting. Sarah was establishing firm boundaries between Yishmael and Isaac. The creation of boundaries is at the core of the commandment not to covet what belongs to others.

The tenth test, the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, relates to the commandment that binds a father with his son. When the Torah describes their going to Mount Moriah it relates how “the two of them walked together” as one, with one mind.


Ten Effects of Messianic Age

It may also be suggested furthermore that these Ten Tests and the Ten Commandments parallel ten effects of the Messianic Age. Abraham, by passing these ten tests had sown the seeds of the revolution that will occur, imminently, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

Maimonides concludes His Mishneh Torah with the description of the Messianic Age as one in which the entire world will be preoccupied with the knowledge of G‑d. That which Abraham began, his first test of recognizing the one G‑d, and the subsequent First Commandment, will then come to fruition.  We will reach the zenith of G‑dly knowledge at that moment. In the final words of Rambam, quoting Isaiah: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the seabed is covered with water.”

There will be a total negation of every vestige of idolatry in the Messianic Age, including the obsessive preoccupation society currently has with materialism, paralleling the Second Commandment and Abraham’s destruction of idols, for which he was thrown into a fiery furnace.  This was his second test.

The third Messianic phenomenon is that G‑d’s name will be pronounced the way it is spelled. Presently, the Divine name cannot be pronounced the way it is written because we are not privy to the transcendent experience represented by that name. In the Messianic Age we will be privy to that level of G‑dliness as well.

This parallels the Third Commandment of not bearing G‑d’s name in vain. On a spiritual level, this means that we cannot pronounce his name in vain, i.e., when we are in a state of vanity, which is another sobriquet for Galus-exile. However when we emerge from Galus we will be able to utter the ineffable name; it will no longer be in vain.

The fourth phenomenon is the state of peace and tranquility that will prevail in the Messianic Age, which is why it is referred to as the eternal Shabbos. Hence the Messianic Age is associated with and corresponds to the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath.

The fifth state of affairs that will occur in conjunction with the Messianic Age is that Elijah the prophet will “restore the hearts of fathers with their children and the hearts of the children with their fathers.”

This means that the generation gap that separates children and their parents, and the concomitant loss of filial respect, will be remedied, corresponding with the Fifth Commandment to honor our father and mother.

Another basic change that will occur is that there will no longer exist hatred between people; the basis of the first murder committed by Cain. Nations will no longer use weapons to fight wars of death and destruction. The Sixth Commandment, not to commit murder, will be fully implemented.

The Seventh Commandment, to not commit adultery, is remedied when we are no longer plagued by temptation for sensual pleasures. In the words of Maimonides: “The prophets and the Sages did not crave the Messianic Age to satisfy their desire for food, drink and pleasure, rather they desired to have the capability to study Torah unhampered.”

The Eighth Commandment, to not steal, is obviated because we will have all that we need. As Maimonides writes: “All the delicacies will be as abundant as the dust of the earth,” which means we will not need to steal to get all the things that we want.

The ninth commandment not to bear false testimony has been interpreted by the Rebbe to mean that we should be faithful to our role to be witnesses to the entire world that there is a G‑d, as we did when we had the Bais Hamikdash. In exile, when our behavior is unG‑dly, we tragically misrepresent G‑d. In the Messianic Age, the integrity of our testimony will be beyond reproach.

The Tenth and final Commandment, not to covet, will be fulfilled because, as mentioned, there will be such an abundance of goods and the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, there will therefore be “no jealousy and rivalry,” as thus fulfill the last of the Ten Commandments.

This entire process was set into motion by Abraham and his ten tests and explicitly articulated in the Ten Commandments G‑d gave us at Mount Sinai. It will all come to fruition in the Messianic Age, imminently!