My great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, was a renowned sage known as "The Sanzer Rebbe" (named after the Polish town of Sanz, where he lived), celebrated throughout Europe for his wisdom, charity, and piety.
In the late nineteenth century, young men married early, and when Chaim was still a teenager, his parents sought an appropriate match for him. He had already acquired a local reputation as an ilui (a genius), and the most venerable family patriarchs were eager to have him as a son-in-law. However, some of their daughters were unwilling.
For, despite his sterling character, his sharp mind, his religious fervor, and his famous acts of kindness, Chaim had one flaw that made young women wary. He had been born with one leg slightly shorter than the other, and consequently walked with a pronounced limp. While prospective fathers-in-law dismissed the slight handicap as insignificant, their daughters faltered. Soon, his parents discovered that it was not as easy to marry him off as they had originally hoped, despite all his meritorious qualities.
One day, when his parents informed him that a notable rabbi's daughter had declined a match with him, he asked the rabbi for permission to personally argue his case with the young woman. He had something of great importance to tell her, he said.
"You know," he said gently to her when the meeting had been arranged, "that the Talmud says that forty days before children are born, Heaven decrees whom they will marry. `So and so will be married to so and so,' a heavenly voice rings out. You know this, right?"
"Well, before I was born, my soul asked to see my destined one. And when I saw you, my soul sang, because you were so perfect. Except for one thing."
"What was that?" she asked, curious.
"A limp. You had a terrible, pronounced limp, because one of your legs was shorter than the other. And I felt such pain that a beautiful, perfect thing like you should have this handicap. And I knew how much more appearances matter to women than to men, and how terrible it would be for you to carry this handicap all your life. So my soul begged heaven: `Please, please give the handicap to me, instead. Let me be afflicted with this disability instead of my beloved.'
"Heaven was moved by my sacrifice for you and gave me the limp instead. This is why I have the limp today, and you do not. I took it upon myself so that you would not suffer."
The young woman was quiet and left the room without saying a word.
Later that night, she approached her father and said that she had changed her mind. It would be an honor, she said, to marry Chaim Halberstam.
The two did indeed marry, and they had many children who followed faithfully in their father's footsteps. Sons assumed their father's mantle of greatness, and their sons after that. An international rabbinic dynasty was established that exists to this day, and I feel privileged to be among its progeny.