Will the real prophet please stand up? There are false prophets out there; there always have been. Way back in the times of the Bible, the Torah was already warning us (in Deuteronomy ch. 13) that we would encounter individuals who look like prophets. They might even seem to make miracles like prophets, but, in truth, they are false prophets.
Why then would G‑d allow a false prophet to make a miracle or do wondrous things that are really impressive? The answer, says our Parshah, is that G‑d is testing us. If we really and truly love G‑d with all our heart and soul, then we won’t be impressed by any fancy wonders or miracles. The acid test will always be: does this would-be prophet encourage us to follow G‑d’s laws, or to ignore them? And if this “prophet” is not faithful to the word of G‑d, then he is no prophet, but an imposter.
If you thought that life’s tests were over when you finished school, guess again. There are many tests in life, and they can be much more difficult than chemistry or physics. And there isn’t that much homework we can do to prepare for these kinds of tests, either.
Poverty is a big test of faith. Even affluence can be a test that’s tougher than we think. Failing health is no easy one, and tragedy is worse. Every individual faces his or her own unique tests and challenges. We might wish the other fellow’s tests upon ourselves, but our tests are ours and ours alone to deal with. What tempts one person may not tempt the next. What is difficult for me might be simple for you, and vice versa. If we remember that the challenge of the moment is, in fact, a test, we might be better able to handle it and pass the test.
But we don’t always realize that this may just be our very own personal, spiritual challenge, perhaps even the most important one of our entire existence. We don’t necessarily appreciate that our souls might have come down to this world for the express purpose of passing these tests.
So we rationalize.
If there is a G‑d in the world, where was He at Auschwitz?
If G‑d didn’t intend for me to take the money, why did the boss leave the cash register open?
If this relationship is wrong, why does it feel so right? This poor woman is locked in a loveless marriage. Isn’t she entitled to a little happiness? Shouldn’t I be there for her?
If G‑d really wanted me to keep Shabbat, why is my biggest turnover on Saturday?
If a yarmulke was meant for me to wear, why am I bald? I can’t even find any hair for the darned clip!
But if we accept the concept of a test of faith, then it becomes easier to deal with the challenges, as formidable as they may be.
The question remains: Why does G‑d test us? Is it really—as our Parshah explains—“to know whether we do, in fact, love G‑d with all our heart and soul”? Doesn’t G‑d know all that already? How will we enlighten Him one way or the other? Is there anything G‑d does not know?
The answer, according to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (in his classic collection of chassidic discourses, Likkutei Torah), is that it is not for G‑d to know, but for us to know. Of course, G‑d knows. But He places tests and obstacles in our path, so that when we overcome them we develop and bring to the fore the inner, latent love of G‑d that was always there inside our hearts and souls.
When we pass life’s tests, we discover that we do have that inner strength after all, that we really are believers who are profoundly connected to G‑d, and that our commitment is true and genuine. In passing life’s tests we become more confident in our own moral strength, and enriched and ennobled with a higher awareness of G‑d. This is why we are stronger after conquering these hurdles than we were before we faced them.
We don’t go looking for tests. Every morning in our prayers we ask G‑d, “Lead us not to temptation.” But if it does come our way, we must appreciate that it is critical to our success as moral human beings and as committed Jews that we face up to the challenge.
May we never be tested. But if we are, let us remember that it is a test. Please G‑d, we will pass with flying colors.