|Ask Rabbi Simmons|
I would like to ask a question about the story of Abraham breaking the idols in his father's house. I heard from a Christian source that rabbis made up this story in the second century to show the dangers of idolatry. Is this true?
The Jewish people received two Torah's at Mount Sinai. One was the Written Torah (a.k.a. the Five Books of Moses) while the other is known as the Oral Torah as it was not written down and was kept as an oral tradition. In time, because the Jews were being scattered throughout the world in our hard exile from the Land of Israel, the Oral Torah was also committed to paper, and it could be that the story of Abraham smashing the idols (which is a true story) was committed to paper at that time. Nevertheless, even though it was written down at that time, the origin of the story goes back to the
time of Abraham.
Although this story is not stated explicitly in the Five Books of Moses, it is eluded to in the verses.
It is written, "When Terah had lived seventy years, he begot Abraham, Nahor and Haran... Haran died in the presence of Terah his father, in his native land, in Ur Kasdim" (Genesis 11:26-29).
Although the Torah says very little, these verses certainly indicate a lot happened. Why does the Torah point out that Haran died in the lifetime of his father? The Torah says nothing else about Haran - why mention this point? Furthermore, why does the Torah mention that he died "in the presence" of his father? It certainly sounds as something major happened. Finally, what is the relevance of naming the name of the city?
The Midrash answers all these questions. There it is explained that when Abraham was still a young child, he realized that idol worship was nothing but foolishness. To make his point, one day, when Abraham was asked to watch the store, he took a hammer and smashed all the idols - except for the largest. His father came home aghast. "What happened?!" he shouted. "It was amazing, Dad," replied Abraham. "The idols all got into a fight and the biggest idol won!"
The idea, of course, was to show his father how ridiculous it is to ascribe power to such idols!There was no way for his father to respond; deep down he knew that Abraham had tuned into a deeper truth.
Nimrod, as the most powerful world leader of the time, was the one most threatened by Abraham's ideas of a supreme God. So Nimrod threw Abraham into a fiery furnace, saying "Let's see your God save you now." Abraham emerged unscathed.
Abraham's brother Haran was also there and he witnessed Abram being thrown into the furnace. Knowing that Nimrod could turn on him too and ask him whose side he was on, either Nimrod's or Abraham's, Haran said to himself that if a miracle was wrought for Abraham, he would say that he was on Abraham's side. However, if Abram died, Haran would say that he supported Nimrod.
Immediately after making his decision, Abraham walked out of the fiery furnace untouched! Nimrod turned to Haran and yelled, "Whose side are you on?"
Haran responded "Abram's!"
And Nimrod angrily picked him Haran and cast him too in the fiery pit. However, God did not create the miracle for Haran as He had done for Abraham, because Haran was only trying to save his skin. Abraham, on the other hand, was willing to die to prove his point that he believed in God. Therefore, God wrought a miracle for Abraham, but not for Haran. And so Haran died in the "presence of his father."
Hence we have answered all the questions, except for one. Why does scripture note that this instance took place in "Ur Kasdim?" Although these words have very little meaning in English, in Hebrew, the world "Ur" actually means "fire." Hence, the name of the city properly understood was "fire of Kasdim" which refers to the fiery pit that Abraham was thrown into, but saved (Rashi - Genesis 11:28).
And that should answer your question!
For a deeper look into the Five Books of Moses, I suggest the Artscroll Stone Chumash, which is a brilliant translation with a running commentary on every page culled from the Talmud, Midrash and other Torah commentators. You can get it at any Jewish bookstore, or at www.artscroll.com.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons