Terah is not spoken of much, save as the father of Abram (later our ancestor Abraham) and Nahor, Lot’s father.

The family were originally from Ur in Mesopotamia, and shortly after Haran, Abram’s brother died, Terah led them towards Cana’an.

For unknown reasons they stopped short of the land which would become Israel.

According to the Midrash, Terah is a wicked idolator, who manufactures idols. He clearly knows they are not God, because when Abram smashes up his stock of idols, Terah gets angry with him, rather than accepting his son’s false explanation the idols argued and destroyed one another.

It is Terah who takes Abram to King Nimrod, to be tried for his blasphemous behaviour in trying to persuade others to accept monotheism.

Abram is thrown into a fiery furnace and survives, leading his father Terah to repent (according to the Zohar).

Rabbi Abba Ben Kahana says in Genesis Rabba that for this, God reassured Abram that his father would have a place in the world to come when he died.

The Midrash suggests Terah, who was 70 when Abram was born, was instructed by God to lead his family into Cana’an, but he did not have the courage to follow Divine instructions.

In Jewish tradition Abram left his father’s house (as God instructed him) to found his own family and way of life.

Ironically, the family repeatedly return to their uncle Laban’s house, to find wives. Laban is truly wicked, seeking to enslave Jacob and tricking him into marrying his older daughter first.

The contrast between the more static, somewhat vacillating Terah and Abram, who was able to move outside the conventional norms of his day, speaks to religious seekers in our own day, and reminds us that Judaism is an innovation in this world, rather than a form of stasis.

Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB), the living Orthodox synagogue in Reading,
www.JCoB.org