Genetics? Any Similarities between you and your parents, grandparents or great grandparents?


by Rabbi Avi Matmon

 One of life's most intriguing possibilities is our ability to delve into our roots and realize the great potential that is ours. The Bobover Rebbe zt"l, was unique in many ways. Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, a survivor of the Holocaust, was a link in the chain between old Europe and the new world. One aspect that may not have been noticed by many was his innate ability to understand people in all their complexities. He could immediately tell from where they came and what their core abilities were. He would say to a student, "Why do you imitate your grandfather; you never knew him!" This was intended as a great compliment. What he meant was that the young boy was actually walking or talking similar to the way his grandfather had. The Rebbe had known the previous generation. He had known the student's grandfather who tragically had become a kodesh. The Rebbe was noting that the following generation actually had the same characteristics as the preceding one.

We are all the product of previous acts and merits of those who have come before us. This is called zechut avot and it explains why our nation has been able to survive spiritually, despite all the horrors we have had to face. We stand on the shoulders of generations of tzadikim, and inside of our souls are all their hopes and aspirations.

In this week's parsha, Vayakel, in chapter 35 verse 30 it says that G-d makes a proclamation by name, Bezalel son of Uri, son of Chur of the tribe of Yehudah. "Bezalel was the general contractor of the entire project relating to the construction of the Mishkan-Tabernacle." He oversaw all of the artistic creation and the rigorous compliance with the specifications spelled out in the Torah portions of Terumah and Tezaveh.

The Torah emphasizes Bezalel's genealogy by tracing it back three generations. Rashi quotes the Medrash explaining the reason for going to Chur, Bezalel's grandfather, in this lineage. The Medrash explains that Chur became a martyr while protesting the desire of the Jewish people to build a Golden Calf when Moshe was apparently delayed in descending from Mt. Sinai after forty days absence. The Medrash says that the Almighty swore to Chur that he would be paid back for his devotion and promised that his descendants would be prominent leaders of the community.

Chur, Betzalel's grandfather, was the individual who stood up and objected vociferously to the construction of the Golden Calf. He paid for this protest with his life; Chur was killed. This was, in fact, one of the sobering factors that caused Aharon to go along with the request to make a Golden Calf.

On the surface, it would seem that Chur sacrificed his life in vain. Nothing was accomplished by his death. He tried to stop the Jewish People from making the Golden Calf, but they killed him and made it anyway. But, by repeatedly tracing Betzalel's lineage back to Chur, the Torah is emphasizing that Chur did not die in vain.

It is true that Bezalel made a name for himself. Bezalel the great artisan is well known. But what about Uri? No one seems to have heard anything about Chur's son, Uri, who was Bezalel's father. What happened to G-d's promise that Chur's descendants would be special people regarding Chur's own son, Uri? Uri, it seems like was just a mild mannered Joe.

The answer is that the Almighty has a very long memory. In human terms, we expect instant gratification and we expect a Divine Promise to be fulfilled immediately. The old expression is "I want it, and I wanted it yesterday!" This is not necessarily how the Almighty works. The promise might not be fulfilled in a single generation. It might take two generations. It might take four generations. With the Master of the Universe's broad perspective of time, promises may be fulfilled only many years later.

To an extent, this phenomenon explains a common problem. Sometimes we see a wonderful person - an outstanding Torah personality - who comes from very unexceptional parents. We may ask ourselves, "Where did such a person come from?" There are famous families where Torah greatness seems to be almost automatically passed on from generation to generation. But there are other individuals where greatness seems to have sprung out of nowhere. "Where did he come from?" we may ask ourselves.

The answer is that we see only one generation. We look at the person's parents and are surprised by the son's greatness. However, it is quite possible that the greatness stems not so much from the parents but from a grandparent or even a great-grandparent or great-great-grandparent that perhaps the child may have never even known! The self-sacrifice and dedication of this great Jew of antiquity may have earned him an illustrious descendant whose time to make an appearance has only now arrived.

The lesson of Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur is that greatness itself may be a "recessive gene". Chur was a great individual, who gave his life in self-sacrifice for the Almighty. That greatness was passed down through his son Uri, but only clearly manifested itself only two generations later in his grandson, Bezalel.

There is a fascinating story told to me by my friend, my insurance salesman and adviser of many of my articles, who has helped construct the last several years pertaining the great Rabbi Mordecai ben Avraham Yoffe (c. 1530 in Prague -1612 in Posen;) He was a Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva and a posek. He is best known as the author of Levush Malkhut, a ten-volume codification of Jewish law that particularly stressed the customs of the Jews of Eastern Europe. He was known as "the Levush", for this work.

Rabbi Yoffe was born in Prague; he could count amongst his ancestors Rashi and before him Hillel, Elnathan (governor of Judea) and ultimately King David. His father, Abraham b. Joseph, was a pupil of Abraham ben Abigdor.

The Levush was known to be, besides being a Talmid Chacham, an exceptionally handsome man. Once his good looks almost destroyed him when the daughter of the governor, who had eyes for young Rabbi Mordechai, cornered him against a wall at the mansion where the Governor lived, with the intention of having sexual relations. The quick thinking Rabbi escaped by sliding into and through the sewer system.

Fast forward approximately fifty years ago in the Yeshiva of Chevron were there was a young student exceptionally bright that many who had met his family were puzzled at the odd family appearance. The boy was extremely good looking, however the father was quite the opposite. Although he had his father's features, nevertheless, he was the complete antithesis of his father. For years, many people would not see how things added up. They would think to themselves: How can a good looking boy come from this couple? However, nothing was said. Everyone obviously was too embarrassed to ask about the disparity. Once in passing the Rosh Yeshiva asked the father "Your son is very handsome and a fine student. Who in the family does he resemble?" The father smiled and responded to the Rosh Yeshiva, "I am a descendent of the Levush. As you well know, there is a famous story about him with the governor's daughter. It was a difficult test don't you think?" the father asked. "Well after the painstaking escape through the sewer, the Levush prayed to G-d and asked that his future generation should not have the difficult enormous test that he had to encounter. He prayed that his offspring should not be good looking. 'Please G-d grant me that wish; grant it to me for ten generations'". The father smiled and said "G-d fulfilled his wish, my son is the eleventh generation!

This idea may, that greatness often skips a generation, or two, or three, can be an important source of inspiration to educators in Day Schools where the student population does not come from the most observant and Jewishly committed sets of parents. One may be tempted to ask, what can I expect from such students? Look who their parents are! However, one needs to look beyond the parents. All these students have or had grandparents and great-grandparents, some of whom, or even many of whom, were very righteous and learned individuals. Perhaps, for whatever reasons, the Almighty did not reward them with children who completely followed in their footsteps. Perhaps, over the years, their children and grandchildren have deviated a great deal from the path and lifestyles of their ancestors. But maybe, just maybe, the Heavenly Payback time has come for the reward due for the dedication and self-sacrifice of those previous pious generations. Maybe given the proper education and the proper attention, these young students will grow up to embody the values and commitment of their ancestors. Maybe, just maybe, their success and achievements will be the reward that the One who is beyond time has in Mind for those pious Jews of yesteryear.

Maybe Uri was not so special, but the grandfather named Chur explains the success and achievements of the young man named Bezalel. Do not ever write off someone because of the way he looks or the way his father looks.

We always tend to consider the "bottom line": Did Chur accomplish anything or not? Did he or did he not prevent the sin? Based on this narrow evaluation, Chur was a failure. They made the Golden Calf anyway. However, that narrow view is based on our view of the world. In G-d's world, that is not the end of the story. That is not the view. A grandfather's dedication and sacrifice (mesirat nefesh), which during its time may have been seen as futile, still had major impact on the potential accomplishments of future generations.

Moreover, our Sages say that the Mishkan was an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. This atonement was brought about through the efforts of Betzalel, who himself came from Chur. Thus, Chur was ultimately responsible for the atonement for the sin that he tried to stop. Ultimately, Chur did stop the Golden Calf -- he stopped its effect, by providing for its atonement.

The lesson of this verse is that we should not always look for instant success. We live in a society where even "FedEx Overnight Delivery" is no longer acceptable. "Fax it to me, now!" However, that is not how G-d operates. Success is not evaluated instantaneously. Chur's accomplishment was not perceived at the time, but Chur did, in effect, provide the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. This is the reason for the emphasis on the word "Re-uu" (See) which introduces Betzalel. Re-uu means - think about it; SEE how life sometimes works.

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