Photo Credit: Drew Kaplan / Wiki Commons

After the binding of Yitzchak episode, the Torah tells us that Nachor, Avraham’s brother, was blessed with eight children (Genesis 22:20-24). The listing of Nachor’s progeny seems odd as it comes after an event of such dramatic proportions. Why the need to give us this information here?

The mainstream answer is that since Yitzchak’s life has been saved, it is time for him to marry. In the end he weds Rivkah, whose lineage is explained in the final sentences of the passage.


From here we learn an important message. Yitzchak is saved from death. But to be fully saved means not only to come out physically unscathed but emotionally healthy as well. Displaying an ability to marry, establish a family, and continue the seed of Avraham would show that Yitzchak truly survived the episode. Thus, the last sentences dealing with Yitzchak’s future wife are crucial to the binding story for without marriage, Yitchak’s life would have been only partially saved.

Another thought comes to mind. The Avraham story begins and ends with the words lech lecha (Genesis 12:1, Genesis 22:2). But in truth, it starts a few sentences before chapter 12 with the listing of Avraham’s complete family. This listing includes his brother Nachor, who does not accompany Avraham to Canaan. As the Avraham story is introduced with the mentioning of Nachor, so too is it closed with the listing of Nachor’s full progeny. The narrative is, therefore, presented with perfect symmetry, beginning and ending with Nachor.

Here, too, another important message emerges. Often in families we think of individuals who are more important and less important. Here the Torah states that Nachor, who at first glance seems less important, begins and ends the Avraham narrative because he plays a crucial role in the development of Avraham’s future – he was, after all, the grandfather of Rivkah and the great-grandfather of Leah and Rachel.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik offers yet another insight. The birth of Nachor’s children is recorded to contrast Avraham’s and Nachor’s lot in life. Avraham, the pathfinder of a new faith, the absolute believer in God, struggled to have a child with Sarah. And even after the long-anticipated birth, this miracle child, Yitzchak, almost dies in the binding story. Nachor on the other hand, a man of questionable faith, is blessed with child after child. It all comes so easy to him.

Here there is another essential lesson to be learned. Avraham could have challenged God and argued, “Why should I struggle while Nachor reaps such great reward?” Still, Avraham never doubts God, and remains a staunch believer.

I remember receiving a $500 check to our synagogue in the fall of 1986. The writer of the letter indicated he was sending the donation in the wake of the New York Mets’ miraculous World Series game-six victory over the Boston Red Sox (the famous Bill Buckner game). “This check,” he wrote, “is the fulfillment of a promise I had made in the bottom of the 10th inning with two outs and two men on. In closing, all I can say is that as a Jew and a Mets fan I’ve learned to believe in miracles.”

The young man who sent the check meant well. May he be blessed for giving so generously. Still, I couldn’t help but think of the many synagogues and churches that no doubt lost out because of all the Red Sox fans who’d made similar vows contingent on their team’s winning.

The test of faith is to believe in God not only when our prayers are answered, but even when they are not.


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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.