"Yi'chus" [family lineage] has always been an important consideration when selecting one's spouse. Nevertheless, Avraham's insistence that his 'chosen' son marry specifically a descendant of his brother Nachor requires explanation.
In this week's shiur, we return to our discussion of the "toladot" in Sefer Breishit in order to answer this question.
In our introductory shiur, we demonstrated how each significant stage in Sefer Breishit begins with the opening phrase "ayleh toldot..." [or similar]. As we explained, 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.
[A quick review in case you don't remember that shiur: Through chapter 11 appear three units beginning with "toldot," each of which shows God's disappointment over mankind's behavior - from his failure in Gan Eden (strike 1) to the punishment of Dor Ha'Mabul (strike 2), culminating with the story of Migdal Bavel (strike 3) and the consequent dispersion of mankind into seventy nations. Then, beginning with the unit of "toldot Shem" in 11:10, Sefer Breishit shifts focus as God chooses Avraham Avinu to put mankind back in the 'proper direction.' This "bechira" process continues as well within the framework of units that begin with "ayleh toladot...". This process of "bechira" ultimately ends with the selection of Yaakov Avinu and all his offspring to become Am Yisrael - God's special nation. (See board #1)]
We will use a chart to illustrate this progression of "sifrei toladot" in Sefer Breishit. This chart can be found on board #2. The names in blue are the words that follow the phrase "ayleh toldot..." at the beginning of each unit. Study this chart carefully.
As you study this chart, note how the chart divides according to the two sections described above. Note also how the "bechira" process includes a "dechiya" [rejection] stage together with each "bechira" stage. Finally, note how each section concludes with seventy! [Additional parallels will be noted as we continue.]
'Ten Generations' - Twice!
As the chart shows, each 'half' begins with a detailed listing of 'ten generations' - 5:1-32 (Adam to Noach) & 11:10-26 (Shem to Terach), respectively. This indicates that the story of Avraham's "bechira" actually begins with "toldot Shem." [As we explained in previous shiurim, the significance of Avraham's descent from Shem lies in his future destiny - to call out b'shem Hashem.]
Strikingly, this structural parallel extends beyond the similarity of the ten-generation unit. The conclusion of each list - the families of Noach and Terach - bear remarkable resemblance to one another:
|Toldot Adam concludes with Noach, after which we find Toldot Noach,
i.e. the story of his 3 sons Shem, Cham, & Yefet.|
[See 5:28-32; 6:9!]
|Toldot Shem concludes with Terach, after which we find toldot Terach,
i.e. the story of his 3 sons Avram, Nachor, & 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 & Leah return to 'dwell within the tent'
of the children of Avraham, just as Yefet is destined to dwell within the
'tent of Shem'.|
[see 9:24-27 /"yaft Elokim l'Yefet v'yishkon b'ohalei Shem"]
The fuller meaning of this parallel (as usual) requires further elaboration. For our purposes here, the parallel itself calls our attention to the significance of "toldot Terach."
In fact, "toldot Terach" appears right where we would expect to find a unit beginning with "toldot Avraham"! Even though we later find units that begin with "toldot Yitzchak" and "toldot Yaakov" [and even "toldot Yishmael" & "toldat Esav"], for some reason we never find a unit that begins with "toldot Avraham"!
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.
This observation also explains why Sefer Breishit dedicates so much detail to the story of Lot. Since "toldot Terach" forms the header for parshiot Lech Lecha, Va'yera and Chayei Sarah, this unit must include not only the story of Avraham, but the story of the children of Nachor and Haran (/Lot), as well. Thus, besides the life story of Avraham himself, these parshiot also contain:
|1)||Lot's decision to leave Avraham Avinu, preferring the 'good life' in Sdom (13:1-18).|
|2)||Avraham's rescue of Lot (14:1-24) from the four kings.|
|3)||God's sparing of Lot from the destruction of Sdom (19:1-24).|
|4)||The birth of Lot's two sons - Ammon & Moav (19:30-38).|
|5)||The 12 children of Nachor (22:20-24). [8 sons from his wife and 4 from his pilegesh. (Sound familiar?)]|
|6)||Avraham's marrying off his son to Nachor's granddaughter.|
Hence, Parshat Chayei Sarah forms a most appropriate conclusion for this unit of "toldot 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 (see Terach's family tree on board #3). 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.
[Herein may also lie the reason why Nachor and Avraham themselves married 'within the family' - the daughters of Haran (see 11:29 and Rashi's identification of Yiskah as Sarah) (see Terach's family tree on board #3).]
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 (see 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 aliya' even before Hashem commanded Avraham to do so (see 11:31).
[See Seforno's explanation of this pasuk (11:31). Ramban and Radak, however, explain Terach's 'aliya' much differently.]
Even though it may be a bit too 'zionistic' to suggest that Terach's merit lay simply in his having been the first person to move his family towards Eretz Canaan, nevertheless, we can not overlook the fact that this is the only detail we find in the Torah concerning Terach.
[In the 'spirit' of "maase avot siman la'banim" - Terach could actually be considered the first 'Zionist' (in a modern day sense). Like any good Zionist, Terach plans to 'make aliya' and even encourages his family to do so, but he himself never makes it there!]
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 '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 Ha'yarden (see shiur on Parshat Lech L'cha). However, Nachor's granddaughter, Rivka, and great-granddaughters, Rachel & Leah, prove themselves worthy of joining the distinctive nation, and work their way back into the family of Avraham (see Terach's family tree on board #3).
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 Further Iyun
We saw earlier that every chosen individual in Sefer Breishit receives his own 'ayleh toldot' except Avraham! If indeed the header "toldot" reflects this bechira process, then certainly Avraham himself deserves one. Yet, for some reason, the Torah includes the story of Avraham's "bechira" within the category of Toldot Terach. This enigma may suggest something unique about either Avraham's own "bechira" or his ability to have children (or both).
In other words, Avraham's lack of "Toladot" [remember: literally, offspring] may relate to his infertility. He and Sarah have a child only after a long and exasperating process. Avraham and Sarah's names must be changed and a miracle must be performed simply for the child to be born. Even then, the process has yet to be completed - the child must return to Hashem at the Akeyda. Thus, the lack of any mention of 'Toldot Avraham' could reflect the difficult travails Avraham must endure in order to father and raise his child. [This may also explain why "Avraham holid et Yitzchak" is added to "ayleh Toldot Yitzchak."]
Nonetheless, the question still remains stronger than the answer.