Weekly Shiur – Parshat Noach – Shprintzee Herskovits
At the end of this week’s parsha, Noach, it says (11:31) “And Terach
took his son Abram (a.k.a Avraham) and Lot, his grandson–the son of
Haran, and Sarai, the wife of Abram, and he left Ur Kasdeem with them to
go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Charan and settled there”.
Immediately afterwards we are told (11:32) “And the days of Terach were
205 years, and Terach died in Charan”. Knowing that two topics in the
Torah which follow each other are always connected, the commentaries try
to figure out what the connection is between everyone leaving Ur Kasdeem
and Terach’s death.
In their investigation into this matter, several of the commentaries
(including Rashi, Ramban–Nachmanides, and Ohr HaChaim–R. Chaim Attar),
note that the mention of Terach’s death here is premature because Terach
really did not die for another sixty years. The way they figure this
out is based on the fact that in next week’s parsha, Lech Lecha we are
told (12:4) “Avraham was seventy-five years old when he left Charan”.
This would mean that Terach was 145 years old at that time, because we
know that (11:26) “Terach was seventy years old when Avraham was born”.
Thus, if Terach died at 205 years old, that means he lived quite a while
AFTER Avraham left Charan. If that’s the case, we have another
dilemma. How could Avraham leave Terach in his old age? What happened
to “Honoring thy Father and Mother” which includes taking care of them
especially when they are older?!
Rashi seems to suggest that the reason why the Torah mentions Terach’s
death now is to COVER UP the very fact that Avraham left his father
alone in his old age. But this answer does not seem to help rectify the
situation, in fact, it actually seems to exacerbate the problem. Is the
Torah implying that “two wrongs make a right”? Isn’t it bad enough that
Avraham left Terach to die alone? Does the Torah have to make things
worse by seemingly trying to deceive the reader into thinking that it
didn’t really happen that way?
Rashi seems to have anticipated such a reaction, because he tries to
further justify Avraham’s leaving by reminding us that the Rabbis say
“An evil person is considered dead even while he is still alive”. The
idea behind this saying is that since an evil person does not use his
life for good, his life has no meaning and thus, it is as if he were
already dead even while he is still alive. Using this expression, Rashi
seems to be saying that Avraham was justified in leaving Terach because
Terach was so evil, it was as if he were already dead. In practical
terms, Rashi seems to also be implying that it was better for Avraham to
leave his father, than to stay and be corrupted by Terach’s evil ways.
But the problem that Ramban seems to have with this is that later on,
Avraham is told (Lech Lecha, 15:15) “And you will go to your Fathers in
Peace, and be buried in good old age”. In other words, Avraham was
being told that he would join his father, Terach, in death. This could
only be possible if Terach did Teshuvah (repentance) and thus merited
the World-to-Come. If that’s the case, how do we understand that Terach
was an “evil” person? And if Terach was not in fact evil because he did
Teshuvah, then how was Avraham justified in leaving him?
Ohr HaChaim focuses on another point here. He says that there is a
difference in the way the Torah describes Terach’s death versus the way
it describes the previous generations’ deaths. Earlier (5:5-31)
whenever it talks about someone dying it says “And ALL the days of X
were…”, but by Terach it only says (11:32) “And the days of Terach
were..”, (i.e. without the word “ALL”). Ohr HaChaim interprets this to
mean that the other people lived ALL the years that they were originally
destined to live, but that Terach did not. The question is: Did Terach
live a LONGER or SHORTER life than he was originally supposed to live?
It seems that Ohr HaChaim cannot state with absolute certainty which of
the two scenarios really occurred, so instead, he brings proofs for
both. In the first case of Terach living longer than he was supposed
to, the obvious question would be: WHY? Why would an evil person merit
living longer than he was originally decreed to live? Ohr HaChaim notes
that the verse immediately preceeding Terach’s taking everyone to leave
Ur Kasdeem, says that (11:30) “Sarah was barren and had no children”.
Ohr HaChaim sees a connection between that and Terach’s making everyone
leave. According to Ohr HaChaim, Terach left Ur Kasdeem BECAUSE Avraham
and Sarah had no children. In other words, Terach must have been
familiar with the famous saying of the Rabbis that “One who changes his
place, changes his luck”. Therefore, when he saw that Avraham and Sarah
were barren, he made the whole family leave in the hope that Avraham’s
and Sarah’s luck would change. As a reward for being so considerate,
Terach merited living longer than
he was originally supposed to live. (I guess you could say that because
Terach was trying to help Avraham and Sarah extend their lives by having
children, he merited to have his life extended as well).
As to the second possibility of Terach living fewer years than he was
supposed to, Ohr HaChaim attributes that to the fact that Terach did not
do what he set out to do. The verse specifically tells us that Terach
left with the intention of going to the land of Canaan. However, Terach
did not fulfill that vow and instead, he settled in Charan with his
family. The Rabbis say that the retribution for not fulfilling a vow is
quite severe, and can involve a person’s own death or even harm to his
family or loved ones. According to Ohr HaChaim, Terach’s failure to
fulfill his vow, could have resulted in his premature death.
While we may not be able to reconcile whether Terach lived a longer or
shorter life, the question that still remains is: if Terach was so evil,
why is Avraham told that he would join Terach in death? And if Terach
was not evil, how was Avraham justified in leaving him?
Ramban has an amazing answer for this. He says that Terach truly was
evil all his life and therefore, Avraham was absolutely justified in
leaving him so that he could live a good, moral life. When Hashem told
Avraham that he would join his father in death, Hashem was informing
Avraham that despite the fact that until then Terach did not merit the
World-to-Come, as a result of AVRAHAM’s living such a righteous life, he
caused his father Terach to merit the World-to-Come (posthumously).
With this explanation, Ramban reconciles both dilemmas. Avraham was
absolutely justified in leaving his father when he did, because Terach
was evil all his life. Yet, Avraham joined Terach in death because
Terach merited the World-to-Come as a result of Avraham’s living a
What an incredible idea–that we have the ability to not only affect our
own destiny but also that of our parents–EVEN after they pass on from
this world! What more incentive does a person need for living a