In our minds, we imagine that great and holy people must descend from great and holy people, otherwise, how would they turn out so holy. On the other hand, people who are not so great and holy must be that way because their ancestors were not holy. However, the facts on the ground – through the Tanach and the Talmud – teach us otherwise.
In this week’s Parsha we read about Korach leading a revolt against Moshe and Aharon. Moshe warned Korach and his 250 followers, “and it will be the man whom G-d will choose, he is holy” - only one person from among all of them and Moshe could be the leader. Only that leader would survive. The rest would die.
Rashi comments that the rebels were fools. After all there could only be one leader. That would either be Moshe or Korach. The others had no chance of winning. So, they would die. But, Korach was very clever. What did he see that caused him to act with such foolishness?
Rashi answers that Korach saw through prophecy that he would have great descendants. The Prophet Shmuel, who in some ways was the equal of Moshe and Aharon, was a descendant of Korach. Korach saw through prophecy that he would have descendants that will serve in the Bais Hamikdosh. So, Korach said to himself, “Is it possible that all of this greatness will come from me and I remain silent?” Therefore, Korach figured that he would be the one person to escape. However, he didn’t realize that his sons would repent and survive. It was their illustrious descendants that Korach saw through prophecy.
Now, if we really think about it, Shmuel was descended from Korach. So, you have a great person – the equal of Moshe and Aharon in certain respects - with not such illustrious ancestors.
There are several great people mentioned in Tanach and the Talmud who don’t have the greatest of “Yichus”. If we would not know the end result, most, if not all of them, would not make our lists of potential Shidduchim for our children or grandchildren.
Ruth and King David were descendants of Lot and Eglon, the king of Moav; Moshe was married to Tzippora, the daughter of a former idolatrous priest; The heads of the Sanhedrin and the Rebbis of Hillel and Shammai were Shmaya and Avtalyon descendants of Sancheriv, who destroyed the Northern Kingdom and threatened Jerusalem; Rabbi Meir was from the family of the Roman emperor. Unkelos, who wrote the Aramaic commentary to Chumash that is found in almost all of our Chumashim, was from the family of the Roman emperor.
And don’t think that these types of cases don’t happen today. Several years ago, the OU Action magazine printed an article that listed religious Jews who are grandchildren, great-grandchildren, grand nephews and nieces of top ranked Nazis.
There is a religious Jew in Israel who is the grandson of the Grand Mufti, who incited many pogroms against the Jews of pre-statehood Israel. Leon Trotsky’s great-grandson is a religious Jew in Israel. These are some examples of people who turned out positive, despite their backgrounds.
On the other hand, we all would rush to have as a partner for our children a descendant of Moshe. However, if we look in the Book of Shoftim, we see that Moshe’s grandson was a priest to idolatry. The great king of Judah, King Chizkiyahu was a throwback to King David. The Navi says that there was no king his equal since the time of King David. The Talmud states that during the reign of King Chizkiyahu, every child knew the entire Oral Law by heart. King Chizkiyahu was married to the daughter of the prophet Isaiah. Yet, we find that their son, Menashe, was the worst king, a terribly evil person. With the exception of King Solomon, none of King David’s children turned out; Avraham had a Yishmael and Yitzchak had an Eisav.
Simply stated, we don’t understand how G-d runs the world. We think we could do a better job than G-d. The problem is that we only see a fraction of the picture. If we would let it sink in that G-d sees the entire picture, we would quickly come to the realization that He knows what He is doing.
We don’t know who will produce greatness and who evil. What looks good here on earth - great yichus - is not necessarily good in heaven - does not necessarily yield proper offspring - and what is good in heaven does not necessarily look good here on earth. Our job is not to play G-d. Rather, let G-d play G-d. It is for us to do what G-d commands us in the Torah and through the words of the Rabbis. Family is not to be completely disregarded, but each individual must be treated with intellectual honestly. Just as we hope other people will accept us for whom we actually are and not for whom they assume us to be, it is only fair that we should do the same for others.