Sh’mot: sins of the parents

“…for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth
generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.”

Hang on a minute. We haven’t got to the iniquity of the fathers yet. Well, true and not true. It’s coming up in Exodus XX, at least the passage quoted above. Similar words appear in Exodus XXXIV, then again in Numbers XIV and yet again in Deuteronomy V. It’s a tricky one, this. In what way are the sins of the fathers visited upon the children and mercy sown to the thousandth generation that love HaShem and keep His commandments? And why am I talking about it here, as an introduction to Sh’mot? The reason is Jacob’s blessings delivered at the end of his life, in the final sedra of Bereshit and what comes immediately afterwords.

Do Jacob’s blessings prefigure the future of his sons’ descendants? To take two of the most poetic of the patriarch’s blessings:

“Zebulun shall be a shore for ships,
And his flank shall be upon Zidon
……. Naphtali is a hind set loose:He giveth goodly words”

Is there a prophesy here that proves that the character of these two men will determine the destiny of their children? The tribe of Zebulun eventually settle close to the sea and Naphtali’s descendants gained a reputation for eloquence. But what about the second and third eldest of the sons? Their father’s blessing, as it recalls the two brothers’ merciless attack on the men of Shechem, sounds disturbingly like a curse:

“Simeon and Levi are brethren;
Weapons of violence their kindred.
Let my soul not come into their council;…
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce,
And their wrath for it was cruel;
I will divide them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.”

Now, the Hertz points out that the Simeonites were intermingled in the inheritance of Judah and the tribe of Levi dispersed among the other tribes of Israel. However, Moses, who will be born and live his first eighty years of life in this week’s sedra of Sh’mot, was the great-grandson of Levi. And I don’t need to tell you what kind of man Moses was and what kind of things he did. “And there hath not risen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face-to-face.” Aaron, the first High Priest and father of priests and Miriam, a prophets were also Levites. Moreover, the whole tribe was chosen for God’s service after they stood against the sin of the Golden Calf. It seems, therefore, that, while evil may come back and haunt us, the children will not be punished for their parents’ wrongdoing, not if they choose good.

And talking of good, we have a good service to look forward to this Saturday, for Rachel Brown will make her debut as a service leader, supported by Roger Chatfield, who will deliver a brilliant derusha. Come along at 10:30 to begin the Exodus together.