Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“… they established their genealogy according to their families … “ (Bamidbar 1:18).

The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni explains that the nations of the world envied the Jewish People’s close relationship with Hashem and were resentful when they were chosen to receive the Torah. Hashem silenced them and said: “Bring Me your documentation of lineage as the Jewish People have done, as it says ‘they established their genealogy according to their families’ (ibid.).”


How can we understand this demand? Can the Torah only be given to those whose genealogy can be proven? Moreover, the other nations of the world do in fact know their lineage, as the Torah states, “And these are the descendants of Eisav …” (Bereishis 36:9).

The great Gaon HaRav Nosson Gestetner, one of the senior gedolei Torah and poskim of Eretz Yisrael (1932-2010) and author of Sheilos U’Teshuvos Lehoros Nosson, makes the following observation:

There is no question that the nations of the world can trace their lineage; rather, their association with it is tenuous. They are not especially proud of their ancestors, and each succeeding generation believes they are wiser and more progressive than those who preceded them.

This contrasts strongly with the Jewish People, who regard their earlier generations with the highest esteem. “If the early generations are characterized as sons of angels, we are the sons of men,” the Talmud (Shabbos 112b) cites R’ Zeira saying in the name of Rava bar Zimuna. “ And if the early generations are characterized as sons of men, then we are like donkeys – and not like the donkeys of R’ Pinchas ben Yair and R’ Chanina ben Dosa who were highly intelligent donkeys; rather we are like typical donkeys.” Our sages tell us that the tzaddikim of the previous generations were so righteous that their spirituality even impacted the ignorant donkey.

The Chasam Sofer comments that if we respect those who preceded us and regard them as angels, then at least we can be characterized as human beings, but if we think that those who preceded us were simple humans then we are not even men – we are but donkeys.

In a similar vein, the Talmud (Brachos 35b) states, “Rabba bar bar Chana said … the latter generations are not like the earlier generations … they would bring their fruits into their courtyards through the main gate in order to be obligated in maaser (tithing). The latter generations, on the other hand, bring their fruits … avoiding the main gate in order to exempt them from tithing.” Our sages expound here that this was obviously not the sole difference between the earlier and later generations; rather, the previous generations wanted to assure that everything they did was in consonance with Torah directives and they did not seek technicalities in order to bypass their obligations.

As part of the Viduy (confession),we say, “Ashamnu mikol am boshnu mikol goy – we are more guilty than the other nations and therefore we are more ashamed than the nations.” How can we be more blameworthy than the other nations, and why should we be more ashamed? The answer is the nations of the world do not feel any shame because they are following in the footsteps of their ancestors. We, however, know that we fall short, and that our deeds do not measure up to those of our ancestors.

The sefer yichus (documentation of lineage) of the Jewish People confirms our reverence for our ancestors and our deep yearning to emulate their ways and cleave to Hashem. Since each successive generation of the nations of the world considers themselves to be superior to those who preceded them, they would never remain loyal to the Torah but would assert that the generation that chose to accept the Torah didn’t know any better.

The elderly Reb Chaim was a beloved fixture in the daily minyan at our shul, and the genuine affection everyone felt for him was heartily reciprocated by Reb Chaim. Although he was a modest and unassuming man who lived on a meager pension, Reb Chaim enjoyed and eagerly looked forward to one kibbud: being called to the Torah for maftir. As soon as his name was called, his face would be wreathed in smiles and he would walk as quickly as he could to the bimah to take his place. His whole being emanated with joy when he finished reading the haftora.

One morning upon Reb Chaim’s arrival at shul, he handed the gabbai a large square package.

“This is a present for the shul,” he explained.

Inside was a beautifully bound collection of all the haftoras that are read throughout the year. Reb Chaim beamed with pride as everyone in the shul admired it.

That year, Reb Chaim reserved a seat at our shul for Yamim Noraim, as the shul he usually attended on Yamim Noraim had closed. On Yom Kippur, towards mincha time, the gabbai was auctioning the aliyos. One by one, they were sold to the highest bidder, as is the custom in every shul, until finally the most important aliyah of the year, Maftir Yonah, was about to be auctioned.

Reb Chaim called out the first bid in a voice tremulous with excitement, hoping to have a chance to buy this special aliyah. As the bidding continued, however, a few members of the shul began bidding against him. Finally, with a deep sigh of disappointment, Reb Chaim was forced to concede; he could not bid any higher, and he sat back in his seat, defeated.

Immediately, one of the young men who had bid against Reb Chaim and bought the aliyah came running over to him from across the shul.

“Reb Chaim,” he called smilingly, “don’t look so disappointed. We bought the aliyah for you. It’s our privilege to give you Maftir Yonah as a token of our deep respect and appreciation.”

Reb Chaim’s eyes lit up and then brimmed with tears. He looked around the shul; everyone was smiling at him. An awed hush filled the shul as Reb Chaim slowly made his way to the bimah, cherishing this triumphal moment. The sefer he had given the shul lay open on the table, and he began reading from it in a clear and feeling voice, word by loving word. I will never forget the complete contentment on his face, as he walked back to his seat. It was almost as though he had just experienced the culmination of his life’s dreams. Two days later, right before Succos, his pure and precious neshama returned to Shamayim.

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Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent rav and Torah personality, is a daily radio commentator who has authored over a dozen books, and a renowned speaker recognized for his exceptional ability to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.