Terah’s part in the story of Abraham

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Many years ago on a Saturday night, a group of friends called me from a restaurant — but not to invite me to join them. They were playing a game and needed to know the name of Abraham’s father, so they called in a “lifeline.” Of course, I knew it was Terah. I had told the Midrash a million times (in words children could understand) about how Terah was an idol maker and when Abraham was watching the store, he broke all the idols. When Terah saw the mess, he asked, “What happened?” Abraham told him that the idols fought and broke each other to pieces. Terah responded, “What are you talking about? Idols can’t fight — they can’t do anything.” And Abraham wisely told his father, “You are right — so why do we pray to them?” This is one of the stories that demonstrate how Abraham came to know that there was only one G-d.

Great story — end of Terah! But Stuart Halpern just wrote in Tablet on Oct. 26, 2023, an article titled “Today’s Terahs.” Halpern reminds us of the story in Genesis 11 where Terah takes his family and starts the journey to Canaan. Then we read that “G-d revealed Himself to Abram.” So Terah had the first pull to the land although we don’t know his motivations and he is given just a small bit part. Abraham is the star in the narrative and rightly so. Yet, we should appreciate Terah for his part in the story — maybe he knew that the land would be a spiritual home for so many?

We read Torah for many reasons (maybe so we don’t need to call a friend in the night, however important it is to have that friend) and one of the key reasons is that Torah may be ancient but the lessons of the stories resonate today and hopefully help guide us. Halpern tells us for today, “We Jews should appreciate those who, like Terah, accompany us on this long march, whether they remain alongside us for a few steps or many. Whatever their motivations — political, spiritual or moral — we treasure their company…. During these fraught days, Abraham’s descendants are continuing his journey — this time not toward, but in defense of, the land of G-d’s promise. But now, like then, it is those who are accompanying us who will help us arrive at our destination.”

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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