Al Revi'im Ve Al Shileshim

There is one passage in the Torah that bothered me for a long time. When God is laying out the consequences of transgression, God says that the guilt will follow the transgressor to the third and fourth generation. As somebody living in the modern world, it bothered me that individuals could be responsible for the transgressions of their grandparents or great-grandparents. That is, until I thought about a different way to read the passage...

The Torah uses the numbering of generations in different ways, but many times it refers to some form of carrying through the generations. So what if the intention of the writer of that passage was NOT to lay the guilt of grandparents unto grandchildren, but to warn of the long lasting consequences of a transgression? The reading would then be very different...

Every decision we make every day of our lives, has consequences - some short lived, but others cast a long shadow. If I choose to polute a river, the consequences can carry for several generations - ask the people of London how long it took to clear the Thames. Human beings were entrusted by God, according to the Torah, with the stewardship over our world; not taking care of it is, therefore, a transgression not only against nature and the planet, but also against the Torah.

The lasting consequences of Climate Change can easily carry into the third and fourth generation of our descendants, but these cosequences are far from unique. To deplete the natural resources of our planet can also have a multigenerational impact, as can the teaching of hate. Even today, there are those who feel that Blacks are inferior because they used to be slaves; and they believe it because it is what they learned at home. Teachings from parents to children can continue for several generations and define descendants by the values of their ancestors. 

So maybe the intention of the writer was NOT to warn about the stigma attached to future generation for our transgressions, but to WARN us of the long lasting consequences of our choices. If we all start thinking along these lines, maybe - just maybe - we'll choose our actions more carefully. Something to think about as we go into the Yamim HaNoraiym; the days that lead from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur...

L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu V'Techatemu



Add Comment