Context – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
At the end of Parshat Noah, the Torah traces ten generations of family lineage from Noah to Abraham. “And Terakh took Abraham his son, Lot his grandson the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarah from Ur Kasdim toward Cana’an (Israel) through Charan. They dwelled there. And the days of Terakh were two hundred and five years. Terakh died in Charan.” (Genesis 11:31-32)
As Rashi (1040 – 1105) explains, Abraham left Charan for Cana’an when Terakh still had another 60 years to live. Why then does the Torah mention Terakh’s death out of chronological order? The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 39:7; compilation of Jewish Homiletic, 400 CE – 600 CE) says that doing so creates the appearance that Abraham was with Terakh, his father, until his death. Not doing so may create the appearance Abraham had not honored his father during the last years of Terakh’s life.
Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, Gerona, Spain; 1194 – 1270) takes it a step further and concludes the Torah is intentionally creating the false superficial imagery that Abraham was with his father during the last years.
Why does the Torah subtly imply that Abraham remained with Terakh when it is abundantly clear that Abraham had left his father sixty years before he died?
Before answering the question, we must first recognize the extraordinary kavod (respect) Abraham had demonstrated to his father.
When Abraham rejected his father’s idolatry, Terakh brought Abraham to the king, Nimrod. Abraham was nearly executed for remaining faithful to Hashem and his brother, Haran, was killed. Yet, Abraham continued to honor his father. (Bereishit Rabba 38:13)
Furthermore, when Abraham left Ur Kasdim, Terakh traveled with Abraham, intending to continue all the way to Cana’an but later stopped at Charan. At that point, Abraham himself protested leaving Charan because it would create the appearance he was neglecting his father. Ultimately, Abraham only left Charan after G-d explicitly ordered him to do so. (Bereisheet Rabba 39:7)
Even a casual reader of the Torah would recognize that G-d commanded Abraham to leave Charan and, in no way, could Abraham be accused of not properly honoring his father.
So, even though everybody knows Abraham left his father and only did so after G-d commanded him, the Torah still felt the need to create the inference that Abraham remained with Terakh until Terakh’s death.
From here we learn about man’s inclination to criticize and the need to actively protect a person’s reputation by placing every statement in its proper context.
Had the Torah mentioned Terakh’s death in the proper chronological order, the average reader’s first inclination would be that Abraham left his father to die alone. Obviously, the reader would quickly realize Abraham had been commanded to leave but the reader’s very first impression of Abraham would have been negative.
That the Torah would go to such lengths, subtly creating a misleading impression that everybody knows to be false, to simply avoid the briefest moment of someone possibly having a negative impression of Abraham, is extraordinary.
It is striking the level of importance the Torah places upon protecting a person’s reputation, even if a remark could only be misinterpreted for a fleeting moment.
When the Torah goes to such lengths to protect Abraham’s reputation from a possible momentary lapse, imagine the Torah’s concern in protecting a person’s reputation from loshon horah and other potentially negative speech. “They dwelled there . . . Terakh died in Charan.”