At the tail end of this week’s parsha we meet a largely overlooked bit player in the Torah’s narrative who, I believe, merits a kinder reassessment. With such a review, we may find a reassuring message for all mothers and fathers who have not always lived up to their own values.
After telling us the basics of his family life and the death of his son Haran, the Torah tell us: “Terach took his son Abram, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of Abram, and they departed from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. And they arrived in Haran and they settled there. The days of Terach were 205 years and Terach died in Haran.” (Bereshit 11: 31-32). Here it is possible to understand the text as telling us that while Terach had a desire to flee his native land, and was headed to Canaan, he settled midway and did not achieve any of the spiritual strengths of his well-acclaimed son Abraham.
Seforno sees things a little differently, pointing out that even back then Canaan had a reputation as a land that fostered intellectual and spiritual growth. Hence Terach’s effort to uproot his family from the only country they knew and to head towards Canaan, even if he didn’t ultimately make it there, still reflected a strong desire to improve his and their spirituality. He had the right attitude but didn’t follow it through. Rashi also appears to judge Terach more favorably, noting that when HaShem tells Abraham during the vision of the Covenant of the Pieces that he (Abraham) “will go to thy fathers in peace” (15:15) this phrase is teaching us that Terach did Teshuva (repentance) before he died.
From the above, we might say that Terach was a latently righteous man. This, of course, is usually of no avail; we are generally judged according to our actions and not our intentions. There is one area, however, where our intentions are critically important, and that is in the raising of our children. This is because a child mimics everything he sees the parents doing or even thinking, often to the parent's complete surprise. Even if we don't act upon them, our children know very well what our values are, and in the safe cocoon of the family the child is often able to better internalize his parents' values than even his parents themselves.
Perhaps we the Jewish people owe a small debt of gratitude to Terach as well. We can also take some solace in the thought that even if we as parents don’t always live our values to their best expression, our perceptive children are still influenced by our best intentions.
This Dvar Torah was adapted by Harry Glazer from the essay “Of Children and Immortality (Ideas #73), written by Rabbi Francis Nataf and posted on his website. To read the full essay, click here.
September 28, 2014/4 Tishrei 5775