Dvar Torah on Lech Lecha

Every once in a while if I like a Dvar Torah or some other thing that I’ve written in some context, I’m going to add it to the blog. Most things I write, I don’t like so much but I liked this one about Terach and Avram. This was for the YHS weekly parsha publication. I’ll annotate this Dvar Torah with some comments in red…

Avram is instructed by God to leave his home and move to the Land of Canaan. (Pet peeve: People who call Avram Avraham before his name was changed. Bigger pet peeve: People who make a big deal and call out people who call him Avraham before his name was changed.) The Rambam lists this challenge–making aliyah–as the first of Avram’s ten trials referred to in Pirkei Avot. Avram, the knight of faith, (I was waiting for someone to mention the Fear and Trembling reference) is praised for his initiative to leave his land and settle in Canaan.  At the end of last week’s parsha, however, the pesukim seem to suggest that making aliyah was not Avram’s initiative but that of his father Terach!

”וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת-אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ, וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-הָרָן בֶּן-בְּנוֹ, וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-חָרָן, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם:“

“And Terach took Avram his son and Lot his grandson, and his daughter-in-law, Sarai, and they left Ur Casdim to go to the Land of Canaan. And when they got to Haran they settled there”(11:31).

How do we reconcile the two different narratives of aliyah? At the end Parshat Noach, we get the impression that it was Terach’s idea to go to Canaan and Avram just went along for the ride. At the beginning of Parshat Lech Lecha, we get the impression that Avram is commanded by God to go to Canaan and that Terach is meant to be left behind.

The Radak weaves the two narratives together and explains that Avram was the one who was commanded by God to go to Canaan and that Avram shared that divine command with his father Terach. At that point, at the end of Parshat Noach, Terach takes his family–including Avram–and begins to fulfill God’s command. On the way to Canaan though, Terach stops in Haran because he just can’t bear to completely leave his homeland. He decides to settle in Haran so that he can be close to his son Avram as Avram continued the divinely-commanded journey to settle in Canaan. According to the Radak’s interpretation, Terach was inspired by his son Avram’s encounter with God and sought to support him as much as he could in his religious journey. Ultimately though, Terach realized that the journey was Avram’s, not his own, and he supported him from a distance. (How incredible is this Radak!! This is not me “updating” his comments for a modern crowd. He actually talks about the warm relationship between Terach and Avram.)

Rav Mordechai Breuer presents a novel literary interpretation of the two narratives of aliyah. Each narrative represents different motivations for aliyah. At first the Torah describes Terach’s self-motivated drive to move to Cannan. God did not instruct Terach to make aliyah. Instead, Terach decided on his own that he would have a better life in Canaan. Perhaps he was motivated by economic opportunity  or by political conflicts in Ur Casdim. Whatever motivated Terach though, it was not God. On the other hand at the beginning of Parshat Lech Lecha, it is clear that Avram’s aliyah is motivated by divine command. When Avram in fact went to Canaan, he was both continuing the path that he had begun with his father as well as charting his own path by following the divine command. Rav Breuer explains that inherent in Avram’s aliyah is the pattern for future aliyot of successive generations, including our own. There are those who make aliyah like Terach intended; they want to escape persecution and seek a safer and more secure life. There are also those who see living in Israel as a divine calling like Avram did; they want to move and fulfill the divine command to live in the Land of Israel and to build it. (I find myself drawn toward Rav Breuer’s shitat habechinot even though just about everyone else in the world rejects him. He’s too frum for academics and too much of an apikores for the frummer.)
Both the interpretations of the medieval Radak and the modern Rav Breuer present a positive portrait of Terach. Terach is not portrayed as the midrash portrays him, as the proprietor of polytheism whose stores were vandalized by Avram.  Instead they each see Terach as a loving father who began a journey which was completed by his son Avram. (Why do so many people feel drawn to the midrashim that present Terach as the bad guy, when there are plenty of mekorot that see him as a fine person?)  In addition to serving as a model for future aliyot as described by Rav Breuer, may the relationship between Terach and Avram serve as a model for all parent-children relationships. As the older generation charts a path and begins a journey toward approaching God and improving our society, may the younger generation follow that path and improve upon it.

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