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What Avrom Asked
G-d promises Avrom that he and his descendants will inherit the Land of Cana'an. And Avrom asks...
And he (Avrom) said..., "How will I know that I will inherit it (the Land)?" (15:8)
The prophet declares that G-d, Himself, "found his (Avrom's) heart trustworthy" (Nechemyah 9:8). Yet doesn't our verse indicate a lack of trust in G-d?
Shmuel's opinion (Nedorim, 32a) is that Avrom was indeed punished for this demand - by his descendants being enslaved in Egypt. How can the enslavement of his great-great-grandchildren be considered a punishment for him?
The first Midrash in Sh'mos Rabba prefaces the section about the Egyptian exile with a quotation: "He who spares his rod, hates his son; but he who loves him, chastises him early" (Mishlei, 13:24). This Midrash teaches us that discipline is needed to build character - not only in individuals, but also in nations. Nations which lack this strengthening experience in their formative years are doomed to weakness and oblivion - while disciplined peoples thrive despite extreme hardship and suffering. The many years of harsh servitude that the young Jewish Nation suffered in Egypt were beneficial; they built the strong national character that was later needed in order to survive a destiny of long, bitter exiles. (Sfas Emes, Sh'mos 5636)
With this understanding of the Egyptian exile, Avrom's question takes on a different meaning. Avrom never doubted G-d's promise that his children would inherit the Land. But he realized that only discipline would render them worthy of it. "How will I know...?" was his attempt to ascertain which measures would bond G-d's Nation to its Land.
The answer to Avrom's question - that there would be a period of bitter servitude for his descendants - caused him much heartache. It was the knowledge of this extreme measure that would discipline his great-great-grandchildren (not the servitude, per se) which was his 'punishment'. But only in the sense of cause-and-effect. Had Avrom not inquired, these future disciplinary measures would not have been revealed to him. (S.L.G.)
If we truly love our children, we must ensure their character development by providing constant and consistent discipline.
Rav Ya'akov Kamenetsky, zt"l, was once taking an early morning stroll with one of his grandchildren. They came to a crossing where the traffic signal was hidden by a tree. Since the street was deserted, they proceeded to cross - but halfway across, R' Ya'akov saw the red light. Holding the boy's hand, he turned back.
"But Zaidie!" his grandson protested, "The street is empty! And we're halfway across!"
This logic made no impression on R' Ya'akov. "We're not allowed to cross when the light is red!" he explained. (As heard from R' Ya'akov's grandson, R' Yitzchok Shurin.)
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