“After this, Abraham received a message: Milcah has also had children from your
brother Nahor: Uz, his first born; Buz, his brother, Kemuel, father of Aram,
Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel. Bethuel had a daughter, Rebekah.
Milcah bore the above eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. [Additionally]
Nahor’s concubine was named Reumah and she also had children: Tebah, Gaham,
Tahash, and Ma’acah” (Genesis 22:20-24).
I would like to draw your attention to the strange biblical postscript to the
akeda, describing the descendants of Abraham’s brother Nahor.
be the reason for this addendum? Abraham was clearly the most righteous man of
his generation. He discovered the ideal of ethical monotheism, and taught
compassion and justice to anyone who would listen. In a miraculously successful
military maneuver, Abraham freed the five kings of the fertile crescent from
four tyrants, and willingly left his ancestral home (his past) and bound his
adored son (his future) to the altar because God asked him to do so.
Abraham had tremendous difficulty in conceiving a son with his wife Sarah and
once he did, he was commanded to sacrifice the young man. In contrast, Abraham’s
only surviving brother, Nahor, about whose deeds the Bible records not one
syllable, is blessed with eight sons by his wife Milcah, and has four more with
his concubine, Reumah. The biblical report makes absolutely no mention of any
difficulty his brother might have had with conceiving children.
placing this message immediately after the traumatic events of the akeda, could
the Bible be pouring salt on Abraham’s wounds? Why would it do that? I believe a
clue to understanding this strange passage lies in the name of Nahor’s firstborn
son, Uz. This can be connected with the first verse in the Book of Job: “There
was a man who lived in the land of Uz and Job was his name; this man was
wholehearted and righteous, one who feared God and kept far from
The book continues by telling us how God proclaimed the greatness
of Job before Satan, who responded that it was no wonder Job was righteous after
all the good fortune he had received. It is this dialogue that leads to God’s
decision to “test” Job with misfortune.
The parallel to Abraham’s “test”
is clear. Both stories emerge from the land of Uz, which symbolizes the unfair,
incomplete and as-yet unredeemed world where God’s face remains hidden and the
righteous continue to be tested.
It is just these tragic circumstances
which cause R. Ya’acov to cry out, “There is no reward for commandments in this
world,” (B.T. Kiddushin 39b
), and the Talmud to declare “Life, children and
sustenance are not dependent on merit but rather upon mazal [the luck of the
draw]” (B.T. Moed Katan 28a
And so perhaps the postscript to the
akeda, reminiscent of a kind of synagogue bulletin announcing births within the
community, reflects our own life experiences: the righteous Abraham has it hard
while the nondescript Nahor has it easy.
There is, however, a totally
antithetical way of looking at this conclusion to the akeda. Yes, Nahor received
undeserved good fortune and Abraham underwent a traumatic experience. But
remember that this world is merely a corridor to the Messianic Age and the
We live in a training ground wherein the Almighty
is our Master Trainer.
From this perspective, God had to communicate a
crucially important ideal to the first Hebrew, and the founder of ethical
He wanted to teach him that our God is not Moloch; He will
never accept child sacrifice as a legitimate religious ritual.
individual who sends out his child as a suicide bomber in the name of God is
actually serving Satan. Hence, the first divine message asking the patriarch to
bring Isaac as an ola
– which can be taken to mean a “whole burnt offering” – is
redefined by the second Divine message, unequivocally forbidding Abraham from
committing such a sacrilege. Ola
is an act of dedication in life (an uplifting),
and our God sees Moloch as an abomination.
But why did God use such an
ambiguous term as ola
, which can also mean “whole burnt offering”? Perhaps
because although God would never ask for human sacrifice, the gentile world of
persecution and pogrom might well ask just that of us, as we have experienced
Those who are the most capable leaders, chosen by
God, must be ready for special tests to learn difficult lessons. And despite the
challenges of one life versus the ease of the other, Abraham remains the father
of a multitude of nations, while if Nahor is remembered at all, it is merely as
Abraham’s brother.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah
Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.