It’s All Grandpa’s Fault?: Yitro 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How have you seen your generation’s actions already have an impact on younger generations? What is it like to see that impact in real time?

Among the Ten Commandments, God informs the Israelites that their missteps will cost their descendants dearly:

The Pitch: “You shall not bow down to them or serve [idols]. For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” – Exodus 20:5-6

Swing #1: “[In Ezekiel 18,] Ezekiel goes on to discuss at length the principle of individual sin and punishment passing from one generation to another. In making this assertion, he argues against a conception already found in the Ten Commandments, according to which God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children. No, says Ezekiel, ‘The person who sins, only he.’” – Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices

Swing #2: “The expression that God ‘keeps in mind the sin of the fathers for their children’ occurs four times in the Torah (Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9). Here and in Deuteronomy, [where the expression occurs in the Ten Commandments,] it means that God punishes them and obliterates their names from the world. Therefore, the verse ends by saying ‘for My enemies’. However, later in Exodus (34:7), and in Numbers, there is no mention of ‘enemies’. [There the expression is given in the context of God’s Attribute of Mercy.] It means that God keeps in mind the sin of the fathers for their children, punishing them little by little in each generation, so as to atone for their sins through their suffering. This is so that they will have it good in the World to Come.” – Rabeinu Bachya

Swing #3: “That [vengeance] should take place ‘unto the third and fourth generation’ can only mean, since there is no reason to assume any arbitrary introduction of the figures, the precise number of generations or direct lineal successors which a man living to a ripe old age is likely to see gathered round him. This in turn can be understood in two different ways: either that the guilty one sees how the consequences of his guilt work themselves out on his grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or else that his punishment comes to affect those of his descendants who are then alive. The passage in the Decalogue itself does not tell us which of the two possible interpretations is correct …” – Martin Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that recurring punishment is fair? Or is this harsh penalty sensible mainly for idolaters? Have you made mistakes that you wish will not affect your descendants? Have you tried to rectify your actions for your descendants’ sake?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re gearing up for Purim at Emanu-El, and we’re excited that a talent show will accompany our Megillah reading! Contact Daphne Hubara if you’re interested in being part of the show.

The Big Inning at the End: With many top free agents still unsigned, something fishy is happening between players and ownership. I hope the building mistrust does not bring harm to the game in the same way that it did during my childhood.

Shabbat Shalom!