Thursday, October 29, 2020







     The Dubner Maggid related a parable about a king who had an old dog who had faithfully served as his private watchdog for decades. When the dog grew old and could no longer be of service to the king, the king came to the painful realization that he would have to let the dog fend for itself in the forest.

          Still, the king did not want to leave the aging dog to face his fate alone in the dangerous wilderness, and he thought of an idea. He had a bear skin placed on top of the dog, a leopard skin on top of the bear skin and a tiger skin on top of the leopard skin.

          When the strange looking beast entered the forest all the animals were frightened and ran away from it. They approached the lion, and demanded that as king of the forest, it was his responsibility to approach the frightening beast and see where it came from and what it wanted. When the lion caught up with the strange beast, he asked it, "Who are you?" The old dog replied, "My father was a bear". The lion asked again, "But who are you?" The dog nervously replied that its grandfather was a leopard. When the lion again demanded to know who we was. The old dog called out that his great-grandfather was a tiger. The lion roared, “I had enough hearing about your lineage. Who are you?” The dog meekly replied, "Oh Me? I'm just a dog!"

     The Dubner Maggid noted that people often brag about their yichus (pedigree), relating how dignified and special their ancestors were. They assume that their lineage will open all doors for them. The truth, however, is that descending from an esteemed lineage is only helpful if a person makes something of himself. As it’s been said: “Yichus is like a potato; the best part is in the ground.”

          Conversely, those who have no extraordinary lineage may feel they lack potential for greatness.

          The Jewish peoples’ foundation is rooted in the lives of our patriarchs - Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. All three shared the fact that they toiled throughout their lives to constantly accomplish and grow in their Avodas Hashem. Because of their efforts, we their descendants have the potential for greatness embedded within our souls.

          However, there is a notable distinction among them. While Yitzchak and Yaakov were born into distinguished families, Avrohom was not. Avrohom grew up in an idolatrous home and society, that believed in polytheism. But Avrohom searched and pondered the world until he concluded that there was one G-d, a Creator who created the world and continues to guide it upon its natural course.

          The greatness Avrohom attained was through his own efforts and struggles. When Hashem instructed Avrohom to leave home and head south to Canaa’an, his nephew Lot accompanied him. When Avrohom ascended from Mizrayim however, he realized that he and Lot could not coexist. Avrohom offered Lot the prerogative of deciding in which direction he wanted to go, promising that whatever direction Lot would choose, he (Avrohom) would travel in the opposite direction. Lot chose the beautiful lands of Sedom and Amora despite their being iniquitous places.

          Eventually, Lot was caught in up in the major war between the five kings and the four kings. Lot was taken captive until Avrohom came to rescue him. The pasuk describes Lot's capture in the following manner: “And they took Lot, and all his possessions, the nephew of Avrom, and they went, and (Lot's capture was because) he lived in Sedom.”

          The words of the pasuk seem to be out of order. It should say "And they took Lot, the nephew of Avrom, and all his possessions."[2] Why does the Torah mention the possessions of Lot prior to mentioning that he was the nephew of Avrohom?

           The pasuk describes the people of Sedom and Amora as being "Ra'im vachata'im la'Hashem meod- Very much (steeped in) evil and sin to Hashem"[3]. Rashi adds “Even so, Lot did not withhold himself from living among them." Lot saw the potential economic growth that could be enjoyed in Sedom and he was blinded by it. That was Lot's priority in life - financial gain and enhancing his wealth. Therefore, when Lot was captured, the pasuk first tells us that his money was taken too, for that is what chiefly defined him. Only then does the Torah state that he was also the nephew of Avrohom. Lot took more pride in his wealth than in being the nephew of such a saintly personality.[4]

     Although having a distinguished yichus is a blessing, it also carries with it great responsibility. In Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah records the painful curses that would befall the Jewish people when they did not follow the ways of the Torah. However, right in the middle of these curses, the pasuk states: “And I will recall the treaty I made with Yaakov; and also the treaty I made with Yitzchak; and even the treaty I made with Avrohom I will remember and the land too I will remember."[5] Why does this pasuk appear right in the middle of the tochacha?

     The Shelah Hakadosh explains that this pasuk is part and parcel of the tochacha. G-d is warning Klal Yisroel that not only would they be held accountable for their own sins, but they would also be held accountable because they are disgracing their family name. As descendants of the patriarchs, they are expected to act accordingly. Therefore, their sins become magnified for they are judged on higher terms.

     Every Jew is a descendant of Avrohom, who reached the peak of greatness on his own initiative. Therefore, he has distinguished yichus and inherent greatness.


          “And they took Lot, and all his possessions”

          “And I will recall the treaty”

[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5763. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Bereishis 14:12

[3] Bereishis 13:13

[4] I heard this explanation from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz

[5] Vayikra 26:42


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