April 11, 2024
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April 11, 2024
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Yichus (family lineage) has always been an important consideration when selecting one’s spouse. Nevertheless, Avraham’s insistence that his “chosen” son specifically marry a descendant of his brother, Nachor, requires explanation.

Each significant stage in sefer Bereishit begins with the opening phrase “eileh toldot …” (or similar). These toldot (genealogies) serve as the “skeleton” that helps form the structure of the entire sefer. Within these toldot unfolds the story of God’s hashgacha (providence) over Creation and the history of mankind, most notably God’s choosing of Avraham Avinu to become the forefather of His special nation.

However, there are two very special sets of toldot that thematically divide sefer Bereishit into two halves. Each “half” begins with a detailed listing of “10 generations” (Adam to Noach 5:1-32) and (Shem to Terach 11:10-26), respectively. This structural parallel extends beyond the similarity of the 10 generations in each unit, for at the conclusion of each list — the final family, i.e., the families of Noach and Terach — bear a remarkable resemblance to one another:

Toldot Adam concludes with Noach, after which we find toldot Noach, i.e., the story of his three sons, Shem, Cham and Yefet. (See 5:28-32, 6:9)

Toldot Shem concludes with Terach, after which we find toldot Terach, i.e., the story of his three sons Avram, Nachor and Haran. (See 11:24-26, 11:27)

Furthermore, the sons of both Noach and Terach receive either a blessing or curse:

Avraham — like Shem — is blessed with the privilege of representing God. Haran’s son, Lot — like Cham’s son, Canaan — is cursed. Nachor’s offspring Rivka, Rachel and Leah return to “dwell within the tent” of the children of Avraham; just as Yefet is destined to dwell within the “tent of Shem.”

For our purposes here, the parallel itself calls our attention to the significance of toldot Terach.

To our surprise, at the precise spot where we would expect to find a unit beginning with toldot Avraham, we find instead a unit that begins with toldot Terach. This alone already hints to the fact that there must be something special about Terach.

Avraham makes a point of selecting a daughter-in-law specifically from the family of his brother, Nachor, thus bringing the history of toldot Terach full circle. Apparently, all of Terach’s offspring have potential for bechira. Therefore, if Yitzchak is to be married, his wife should be chosen from the family in which this potential lies.

What was so special about Terach that he “deserves” his own toldot? It is really hard to say, as the Torah tells us so little about him.

On the one hand, sefer Yehoshua introduces Nachor as a card-carrying idolater (Yehoshua 24:2). Yet, as the end of parshat Noach teaches us, Terach was the first person to recognize the spiritual importance of Eretz Canaan. He set out to “make aliyah,” even before Hashem commanded Avraham to do so (see 11:31).

We may suggest, however, that Terach and his offspring may represent a different aspect of the bechira process — the potential to be chosen if worthy. Terach’s initiative, in this regard, may have granted the possibility of becoming part of the “chosen family,” to any of his offspring who prove themselves deserving of this distinction.

Avraham Avinu, not only follows his father’s lead and continues to Eretz Canaan; but also faithfully follows God’s command throughout. He, then, becomes the progenitor of God’s special nation. Nachor, however, stays behind. Lot (Haran’s son) had the opportunity to remain with Avraham, but detaches himself by choosing the “good life” in Kikar HaYarden. However, Nachor’s granddaughter, Rivka, and great-granddaughters, Rachel and Leah, prove themselves worthy of joining the distinctive nation, and work their way back into the family of Avraham.

Even though the bechira process may appear random and indiscriminate, the framework of toldot Terach may reflect the importance of personal commitment in earning that bechira.

For a longer version of this article, see www.tanach.org

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag is an internationally acclaimed Tanach scholar and online Jewish education pioneer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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