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The potential for greatness in everyone

  • ParshaRabbiPink
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Apart from reminding me of my high-school education, Malvolio’s lines in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night are also appropriate for our weekly Torah portion.
by Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad Greenstone | Jan 23, 2020

Towards the beginning of this week’s portion, we are formally introduced to Moses for the first time. Moses was born in the beginning of the book of Exodus and according to the Midrash, he was “born great” with his parent’s house being filled with a G-dly light at his birth.

Last week’s portion followed Moses as he grew up, fled Egypt, married, and met G-d at the burning bush, when Moses had greatness thrust upon him. In spite of his protests, G-d insisted he was the best person for the job of Jewish leader. Having already learnt so much about Moses, is it necessary for the Torah to formally introduce him again, detailing his lineage and genealogy, starting with the birth of Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, then Simon, then Levi, Moses’ great-grandfather? What’s the Torah trying to teach us by tracing the “yichus” – pedigree – of Moses?

“Yichus” is an intangible word often used to evaluate the merit of a potential matrimonial candidate. It can demonstrate “good blood” It also means ancestors with spiritual merit who are looking out “on-high” for their descendants in this physical world.

There has always been controversy about how much significance yichus should bear when we live in a world where some of the most unrefined people have great yichus, and some of the most refined people may not have the greatest yichus. After all, even Abraham wasn’t blessed with great yichus. It’s been said that yichus is like a bunch of noughts. If they follow a number, then each nought multiplies the number by ten. If no number precedes them, a bunch of noughts add up to one big nought. In other words, yichus doesn’t compensate for one’s deficiencies. Great yichus without one’s own virtues and efforts can be quite empty.

After the mysticism surrounding Moses’ birth and upbringing, it’s not difficult to imagine that rumours about a supernatural birth – as is common in other religions – would have abounded. The Torah lists Moses’ genealogy to teach us that he was a normal person, born to a father and mother, and he “achieved greatness” by using his virtues and abilities to make himself spiritually worthy of his rank. No matter what a persons’ birth or upbringing may be, every Jewish child has the potential to become a Moshe Rabbeinu, a leader of the Jewish people in their generation.


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