The Dubner Maggid was asked why God promises to remember His covenant “with Jacob, with Isaac and with Abraham” (Lev. 26:42), when the usual order of the Patriarchs is the other way around – Abraham first, then Isaac, then Jacob. The Maggid answered with a parable.
“Once,” he said, “two thieves were brought before a court. The judge found that one derived from ancestors who were themselves known as thieves, while the other had impeccable ancestry studded with saints and scholars. The judge gave a lighter sentence to the first and a harsher sentence to the second.
“This one complained, ‘Why am I worse than my companion? Why should I receive a harsher sentence than him?’
“The judge replied, ‘He comes from a dishonest family and he knows no better, but you are from an upright background and have broken away from their fine example, so you deserve a worse punishment’.”
The Maggid added, “God will act similarly when judging the Jewish people. Their father Jacob was an upright man and so were his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. With such a fine example, I will punish them more severely if they do wrong, whereas nations who did not have such righteous ancestors don’t always know any better!”