I enjoy when a D'var Torah theme comes up that can be used for more than one parsha. The point of Haran and his fence-sitting, in contrast to Avraham Avinu, is alluded to in a posuk near the end of parshat Noach and can be discussed throughout the week of parshat Lekh Lekha, as well.

Parshat Noach cites the birth and death of Haran in Sefer B?reishit, Perek 11, p?sukim 26 -28, which state, "When Terach had lived 70 years, he begot Avram, Nahor and Haran... Haran died in the lifetime of Terach, his father, in his native land, in Ur Kasdim."

Rashi and Midrash Tanchuma tell the story of how Avram, at age 42 (The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, by Mattis Kantor, page 15. 1948 was the year of Avram's birth; 2000, the year in which he destroyed Terach's idols), first destroyed his father Terach's stock of idols. Subsequently, when it was Terach's turn to conduct services before the idols in the palace of Nimrod, the superpower ruler of the time, Avram accompanied his father and, in turn, destroyed the palace idols, as well. This aroused King Nimrod's ire and Avram was brought before Nimrod.

When brought before the ruler, Nimrod engaged Avram in a dialogue, wherein Avram again aroused Nimrod's ire by disproving the authenticity of both Nimrod's deity and that of his idols. As a result, Nimrod jailed Avram for ten years.

After the imprisonment, Avram was again brought before Nimrod for judgement, with Nimrod hoping to convince Avram to worship him and his idols. Avram refused once more and was cast into a fiery furnace. But Hashem Himself protected Avram and he emerged from the furnace unscathed.

Nimrod was stunned and prostrated himself before Avram, as did all of his ministers. But members of Nimrod's court came to believe that Avram's brother Haran, a great magician, saved Avram with his magic.

During the entire episode of Avram in the furnace, Haran sat on the fence of cheshbonot. He reasoned that, if Avram died, he would stand with Nimrod. But if Avram emerged from the furnace alive, he would join Avram's camp. So, when Avram emerged unscathed, Haran was asked, "On whose side are you?" He responded, "I also believe in Avram's G-d." So, Haran was cast into the fiery furnace. But no miracle happened to him and he was consumed by the huge flames.

The Midrash Says relates that the m'forshim (commentators) say, "Miracles do not occur for a person who gives up his life for Hashem only under the assumption that he will be miraculously saved." (The Midrash Says, Parshat Noach, pg. 124)

Shem Mishmuel explains that, although "Haran had all of the correct aims in life, concentrating on the spiritual, internal aspects of life..." and "was a basically good person... the progenitor of Rachel, Leah, and ultimately Dovid HaMelech, descendants with outstanding spiritual qualities.... one crucial factor was absent: he wasn't able to direct his aims toward the service of Hashem and to closeness to Him. The outstanding spiritual qualities of Haran's descendants were not fully developed within him." (Shem Mishmuel, parshat Noach, pg. 12)

It is this lack of spiritual development, this pragmatism of Haran?s, and its many parallels in modern-day life that I will address in this D'var Torah.

I think of the Ba'al Teshuva movement ? the signs we're shown, Aish HaTorah, and the ?Hidden Torah Codes?, proofs of Judaism being the one true religion, etc. I have in mind the stam Yid (average Jew) who appears at a number of shiurim and, finally, after a number of requests, he accepts the rabbi's invitation to come for Shabbos. And this Yid moves slowly, haltingly, with much deliberation, toward Torah, toward observance.

A couple of years ago, I wrote in an article about the time, some 13 and 1/2 years ago ? early on in my own road toward Yiddishkiet and moving closer to HaKadosh Borchu ? when I was approached by my Shabbos host and asked, "Will you be a player or a spectator?" And in the article, I took the concept one step beyond, by asking the question of Jews in Chutz L'Aretz regarding Aliya; will you play in the Big Leagues or will you continue to languish in the Minors, rehearsing?

And so, I hold the two questions to be related. Does being a Ba'al Teshuva, or, for that matter, even a Jew born religious from the cradle, give one sufficient faith to "put it on the line" in a crucial test? Tests such as those recounted in the Yom Kippur prayer "Eileh Ezk'rah" regarding the brutality that befell the martyred Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Yishmael, the Kohen Godol, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Chananya and the others who died al kiddush Hashem, at the hands of the brutal Romans. I remember Reb Moshe Ungar's impassioned drosh, back in Philadelphia, in the "Old Country", when he spoke about the brutal public execution of Rabbi Akiva and how his students cried to their rebbi regarding his slow, painful, torturous murder, "Rebbe, How much more...?"

And I refer to such tests as Aliya, chesed, hochnossos orchim, or standing up for the Land of Israel ? kol ha'aretz shelanu ? in the face of and in spite of the current superpower or the rest of the world. I refer even to the tests of tzedaka, without cheshbonot; emunah- (faith-) based tzedaka, not giving based on tax-deductibility or on a pile of fancy Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations, as if these vehicles alone testified to the merit of the chesed, rather than the testimony regarding its purpose.

Has one sufficient faith to act on emunah when in a position to do so, whatever the gauge of success, as Avraham did before Nimrod and the fiery furnace, when there was no prior proof that he will emerge successfully? That seems the real test of emunah.

Haran saw which way the wind blew and went to the winning side, in contrast with Avraham Avinu, whose emunah system evolved over many years of deduction, derivation, trial and error. But when the tests came, Avraham put it on the line, risking all in acts of emunah in Hashem, without making a mental cheshbon of whether or not he would emerge alive, unscathed. Haran did not.

Im yirtzeh Hashem, the next holidays will be truly joyous, we will have passed the real tests and the Ge'ula Shlaima will be an established, accomplished fact, we will be zochim to have the Moshiach, the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash and the Kohen Godol?s Avodah in the Kodosh HaKodoshim. May we be zochim to see the end of Jewish bleeding and dying, la'asot nekama b'goyim, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayra v'yameinu ? speedily, in our time ? immediately. Achshav, miyad, chik-chak, etmol!