One of the more cryptic personalities in Sefer BeReishit is Haran, Avraham Avinu’s brother. The Pesukim do not tell us much about Haran and a few Midrashim include only brief stories. Yet, it is from Haran that David HaMelech was destined to descend (through Lot who had a son, Moav, who had a descendant, Rut who was David HaMelech’s grandmother). What was it about Haran that merited such a great descendant?
The most famous episode of Haran is described by the Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 38:13) and recounts Haran’s tragic death. After Avraham destroyed the idols of his father, Terach, King Nimrod threw Avraham into a burning furnace. With Divine assistance, Avraham managed to emerge from the furnace unscathed. While Avraham was in the furnace, Haran made a calculated decision that if Avraham miraculously emerged alive, Haran too would believe in God. But if Avraham would die in the furnace, Haran would reject the beliefs that Avraham had espoused. Consequently, when Avraham came out of the furnace, Haran declared his loyalty to Avraham and was then himself thrown into the furnace by Nimrod. But because Haran did not have the same absolute faith in God, he did not merit being saved, as Avraham had. Interestingly, the Matnot Kehunah, a commentary on the Midrash, notes that Haran’s deficiency in Emunah was not in waiting until he saw Avraham return safely from the furnace to declare his belief in Hashem. Rather, when Haran allowed himself to be thrown into the furnace, it was with confidence that Hashem would perform a miracle for him and return him alive. Avraham had no such demands on Hashem, but rather believed that God would deal with the situation appropriately and for the best. This provides two fundamental insights into Emunah and the impact it has on our wishes. Specifically, trust in God means deferring to what He thinks is best, even if that is not what we had in mind. Secondly, as soon as doubt creeps in, we become lacking in complete faith and so become susceptible to natural consequences.
The Sfat Emet suggests that Haran’s merit can be attributed to the Mesirat Nefesh (willingness to sacrifice) he displayed by risking and ultimately losing his life in service of Hashem. Although this episode may be seen as Haran making a safe, calculated decision, the Midrash does not mention others who were willing to do what Haran did. Haran displayed incredible faith in siding with Avraham. However, how does this story relate more specifically to the merit of David HaMelech being a descendant of Haran?
Although Haran may have been confused, the one concept he grasped was the need to attach himself to a Tzaddik such as Avraham. The loyalty that Haran ultimately displayed to his brother, Avraham, was a unique characteristic, especially during those times, to the extent that Haran risked his life to stay loyal to Avraham. This loyalty was passed down to Lot, who traveled with Avraham to Eretz Yisrael, again based on loyalty to Avraham. Lot, like his father, Haran, had a confused sense of loyalty but Lot remained quiet when they went to Egypt and Avraham said Sarah was his sister. This is another example of the loyalty of Lot to Avraham.
Haran’s loyalty was bequeathed to Lot. However, the difference between Avraham and Haran was too significant, leading to the ultimate split that would happen between Avraham and Haran’s son, Lot. The Slonimer Rebbe points out a fundamental difference between Avraham and Lot. When the two split, Lot chose to go to Sedom, the paradigm of physical pleasure, whereas Avraham chose the spiritual path. This description of Lot as confused between the spiritual and physical, began a generation before, with his father Haran. Avraham survived the burning furnace because anything all-spiritual is not consumed by fire. But Haran was killed by the fire as a result of his physical interests. This duality of Haran was shared by Lot.
Ultimately, the descendant who broke the legacy of Haran and Lot was Rut. Rut retained the loyalty of her ancestors, remaining connected to Naomi a descendant of Avraham, much as Haran and Lot were loyal to Avraham. However, Rut was willing to sacrifice everything in order to remain with Naomi. Rut rose to the next level, resulting in her being the progenitor of the royal house of David.
The seeds planted by Haran began to grow with Lot, but ultimately were realized thousands of years later by Rut. It is important for us to focus on both Avraham and Rut, emulating their model of Emunah, and not Haran and Lot’s example of lacking absolute belief.