When you get married, everyone tells you how marriage is hard work. Of course, you were too much in love to believe it. Everything is perfect. Why provide such a gloomy forecast? While I don’t believe in scaring couples or bursting their bubble, if we could strip these predictions of their negative implications, we may be better equipped to deal with what lies ahead.
If the hard work of marriage means I need to hold my tongue and take abuse from my wife for the next fifty years or I need to ignore the fact that my husband never listens to me, then the future is dismal. However, if it means that conflict is inevitable and there are tools out there that will help us transform our quarrels into connection and real love, then there is a greater, more elevated purpose for this power struggle. The latter is the true definition of a test. We aren’t challenged in life to make our lives miserable. We are met with challenges to make us greater people. That is why the Midrash (Breishis Rabbah 55:11) teaches that the word for test/challenge, nisayon, means to be lifted up high (lhisnoses) like a banner (nes). These trials serve to elevate us.
What about a test elevates us? Is it merely that we persevere amidst adverse circumstances? The paradigm of nisayon, a test, is Avraham Avinu, our patriarch Abraham. The Mishna (Avos 5:4) teaches that G-d tested him ten times and he withstood them all. The most famous and most difficult of Avraham’s tests was the final one, the Akeidas Yitzchak, the binding of his son to be brought as a sacrifice to G-d. While this is a horrifyingly difficult task for any father, what makes it more challenging than the first test in which Avraham gave up his own life for G-d by jumping into a fiery furnance, only to be miraculously saved? (This first test occurred before G-d had even revealed Himself to Avraham, yet he was willing to sacrifice himself!) Furthermore, why is it even considered Avraham’s test (the Torah (Breishis 22:1) prefaces the story by saying that “G-d tested Avraham”)? It should have been considered Yitzchak’s test as he was 37 years old and could have decided whether or not he wanted to take part in this event. If he had declined, Avraham would not be penalized on his son’s account as Yitzchak was an adult!