For the week of November 5, 2005 / 3 Heshvan 5766
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5


Halfway Is Not Good Enough

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Bereshit / Genesis 11:31)

In Genesis chapter twelve, which begins next week's parsha (weekly Torah reading), we read of how God called Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) to leave his country and family to go to a place that God would show him. It is commonly understood that it was in Abram's hometown of Ur that God gave him this directive (See Nehemiah 9:7; Acts 7:2,3).

Yet, at the end of this week's parsha, we read that it was Abram's father Terah who left Ur. He took with him Abram and the others who would continue on with Abram to Canaan, God's appointed destination - the land that would one day become the Land of Israel. Even though Terah intended to go to Canaan, they only journeyed about halfway, settling in a town called Haran. It was only after Terah died that Abram continued his God-given journey.

I wonder how this actually all worked out. Assuming that God first spoke to Abram in Ur, why would Terah be the one to lead the group to Canaan? Some question the bringing along of Abram's nephew Lot, given the restrictions God put on his call. I imagine it is possible that Abram was not as radical in his response to God as he should have been, out of loyalty to both his father and nephew. The presence of Lot would result in much grief later on. Could it be that he inappropriately deferred leadership to his father with the result that the expedition was disrupted by whatever it was that caused them to settle in Haran?

I don't know if we can answer questions like these. What we do know is that they settled in Haran instead of staying on course to Canaan. We also know that they resumed their journey eventually. We have no record of any negative comment in the Bible regarding their delay (if it even was a delay). We can safely assume that it was necessary to resume their journey in order to fulfill God's directive.

One of the lessons we can draw from this is that, as we journey with God, halfway is not good enough. God said to go to Canaan, and so to Canaan they needed to go. It might be difficult to fully understand what it would have meant for Terah and his family to leave Ur and travel as far as they did. Whatever kept them in Haran would likely have kept any of us from going any further. Yet Abram could not have stayed in Haran and received the promised blessing of God. He had to move on, and move on he did.

I wonder how often we find ourselves stuck halfway in our journey with God. We may impress ourselves by how much we have given up and left behind, or by how much we have accomplished. We might compare ourselves to others and think we are doing pretty well, but obeying God is not something we can evaluate through comparison. Either we fulfill God's call in our lives or we don't. Halfway is not good enough.

Our journey with God may or may not be similar to Abram's. While God does still call people to make radical changes to their geography, he may be calling for changes in our behavior or attitudes that are just as radical. We may also find ourselves on multiple journeys, some even at the same time.

But whatever God has called us to, the good news is that we don't have to remain stuck halfway. If God has called us to something, the obstacles that get in our way at times do not have to have the final say. Once we realize that we have gotten stuck part way, we can get going again.

And get going we must. How many of us are settled in Haran instead of being on our way to Canaan, whatever Canaan might represent in our lives? Having started well, we get tired and find ourselves caught in between - we've left our old lives of unbelief, but we've never fully embraced the life that God has called us to. What a miserable place to be! Those of us who know the reality of God also know that we cannot go back to our old lives, yet at times we're too afraid to move beyond our Haran.

I wonder if it was necessary for Terah to die before Abram could move on. Sadly, there are things in our lives that may need to die before we too can move on with God. But I don't think it has to be that way. If God has told us to move on, we can move on.

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