The Pedigree Fallacy

First posted on The Times of Israel at:

Netziv Exodus: Vaera

The Pedigree Fallacy

“The person who has nothing to brag about but their ancestors is like a potato; the best part of them is underground.”  -Sir Thomas Overbore

In Jewish circles, much weight is often given to a person’s “Yichus” – his ancestry. If the person is descendent from a great line of Rabbis, we are instantly impressed by their prestigious lineage.

The Torah at times goes out of its way to give the genealogy of key personalities. Aaron the High Priest is introduced via his great-grandfather, Levi, followed by his grandfather, Kehat, and his father, Amram. To round out the picture, we are also told about Aaron’s children and grandchild, Pinhas (a future High Priest). Aaron’s is clearly the great priestly family of Israel with a mighty lineage.

The Netziv on Exodus 6:14 however, is not impressed by the powerful ancestry. He ironically comes to his conclusion from the mention of Aaron’s much more famous brother, Moses. He explains that Moses is mentioned in the verse on his own merit – not that of his ancestors. Moses was great because of the connection he developed with God and his absorption of the divine will. Moses reached the height of human potential because of his intimate attachment to God’s Torah. The Netziv takes a step further and claims that greatness in Torah is superior to any “Yichus” – to any ancestry, as holy and noble as it might be.

May we appreciate whatever great ancestors we may have – but establish our own good names.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the descendants of great personalities.

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