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March 23, 2006

By Rabbi Aryeh Meir

In this parashah we are shown both the greatness of Avraham and his response to difficulties and tests that he faces: He argues with God over the destruction of S’dom and Amora; he nearly loses Sarah to the king of Gerar; he is forced to expel Hagar and Ishmael; he nearly sacrifices Isaac at Mt. Moriah.

After these highly charged episodes, the Torah takes a break by recounting the genealogy of Nahor, the brother of Avraham.

Some time later, Abraham was told, ‘Milcah too has borne children to
your brother Nahor: Uz the first-born, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel
the father of Aram; and Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and
Bethuel”Bethuel being the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore children: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah. (Genesis 22:20’24).

According to one modern Bible scholar, the genealogy comes here (following the binding of Isaac) because it contains the name of Rebekah who is to be Isaac’s wife. The fulfillment of the promise made to Avraham after the Akedah (‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore’ Genesis 22:17) is to be made through Rebekah. (Sarna)

But why mention all of the offspring of Nahor? Would it not have been enough to say that Rebekah was the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son. According to the Jewish tradition, nothing in Torah is unimportant’there are no extraneous details. Sarna tells us that the twelve sons of Nahor represent a ‘league of tribes’ linked to one another. He connects them with names of cities or regions in the
ancient Near East.

Here Torah includes a seemingly unimportant list of names which, for some reason, deserve to be remembered. According to Sarna these tribes or confederacies existed in antiquity and were related to our ancestors. From a Torah perspective, they are mentioned by name because their existence was somehow connected with the existence of the family of Avraham. They form part of our story, our history. While the story of Avraham, his family and his descendants are central to the story, Torah is interested in the broader context of the people Israel and its origins.

It is not an exaggeration to say that from the very beginning Jews have been obsessed with preserving historical memory. The self-assertion that Torah is of divine origin makes its preservation an absolute necessity. Torah and everything in it is sacred memory. From a certain perspective, the names of the twelve sons of Nahor are
as important as the splitting of the sea or the giving of the Ten Commandments. They are chanted in the synagogue with the same seriousness, with the correct pronunciation and melody.

God and Torah are in the details. To the Jew, memory is central. ‘Remember the Sabbath day.’ ‘Remember that you were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt.’ ‘Remember what Amalek did to you. Do not forget!’

Memory is powerful and the loss of it is a tragedy. So, next time you are following the Torah reading, and you come to some seemingly unimportant details, remember to pay attention. You may actually learn something. Maybe God isn’t in the details, but Torah is.

Shabbat Shalom