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We welcome back Rabbi Kahn, who returned to Israel after his successful interview trip to Chicago and New York. If you would like to apply but have not yet done so, Rabbi Wolicki will be traveling to North America later this month to conduct additional interviews, so please send in your applications as soon as possible.

On Thursday morning, the yeshiva embarked on a trip up north to the Galil. After spending a full day of hiking and other fun activities, the group traveled to Tzfat, where they will be spending Shabbat.

This coming week, we are looking forward to hosting numerous guest speakers, including Rav Herschel Schachter, Rav Mayer Twersky, Rabbi Avraham Friedman, and Rabbi Yonasan Saks. Make sure to check out our online beit midrash at to hear their shiurim, along with many others.

18 Shvat 5775

The Fourth Generation
By Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

“You shall not prostrate yourself to them and you shall not serve them. For I, Hashem your G-d, am a jealous G-d [who] visits [Heb. pokeid] the sins of the fathers on children, on the third generation, and on the fourth generation of those who despise Me. And I perform acts of lovingkindness for thousands of generations to those who love Me and preserve My commandments.”
(Shemot 20:5-6)

Here, G-d states that for those who stray to paganism, accountability continues to the fourth generation. The precise meaning of this verse is unclear.

The commentaries focus on the Hebrew word “pokeid.” This word is variously translated as “visits,” “remembers,” “is cognizant,” “punishes,” and “counts.” The theological lesson regarding guilt and punishment in this passage depends on which meaning of this word is chosen.

According to Ibn Ezra and others the meaning of this verse is that G-d withholds punishment until the fourth generation.

“Pokeid means remembering. G-d waits for the transgressor, perhaps he will repent from his sin and sire a child who is better than he. And If he [i.e.
the child] went in the way of his father, as well as the third generation, as well as the fourth generation – G-d will not withhold His anger from the fourth generation if they were all haters of G-d through the fourth generation, for in [the fourth generation] He will destroy the memory of them all. For G-d will remember what was done by the father, by the son, and by the son of the son.” (Ibn Ezra Sh. 20:5)

In this view, when someone strays to paganism, G-d restrains his anger until the fourth generation. If the paganism continues to the great-grandson of the original sinner, G-d brings punishment on the fourth generation. The difficulty is that the first three generations apparently are not punished for their sins. All of the punishment is reserved for the fourth.

Ramban disagrees. He begins by quoting Ibn Ezra’s commentary and dismissing it as incorrect. He argues that the verse treats all generations equally.
There is no indication in the text that there is punishment only for the fourth generation. Ramban offers his own understanding of the verse.

“Pokeid means vengeance. (see Shemot 32:34, Isaiah 27:1, 24:21) It is correct in my view that G- d visits the sin perpetrated by the father on the sons and destroys them for the sin of the father. And so too He will visit punishment on the third generation if their sin has not been complete in the two generations. Sometimes, He will visit punishment for the sin of all of [the above] on the fourth generation when their measure is full and wipe them out. However, on the fifth generation He will not punish the son for the sin of his great-great-grandfather ‘of those who despise Me’ – when the children hate G-d, for if [the sinner] sires a righteous child, [the child] will not bear the sin of the father. It is possible that this harsh [judgement] only applies to the sin of paganism, for that is where it is mentioned. The rest of the Law makes no mention of the second, third, and fourth generations.” (Ramban al haTorah Sh. 20:5)

Ramban’s position is that each generation is punishable for the paganism – and no other sin – of the previous generations as well as their own. This cross-generational accountability only applies until the fourth generation.
Beyond the fourth, the accountability does not continue.

Two questions emerge from this. First, why specifically four generations?
Why not more than four or fewer than four? Second, what happens after four generations? Does the cycle begin again?

Maimonides addresses the first question.

“[G- d] restricts himself to the fourth generation only because the utmost of what man can see of his offspring is the fourth generation.” (Guide of the Perplexed part 1 ch. 54)

Great grandchildren are the upper limit of the offspring that a person will see in a normal life span. It is only the extremely rare person who lives to see great-great grandchildren. Accordingly, G-d holds a person accountable for those generations that he has a realistic chance to see.

One who leaves Judaism for a pagan life differs from his offspring in that he chose to reject G-d. His children did not make this choice. Inasmuch as he chose this, he is aware of his sin in a way that his children are not. As long as he is alive to see his offspring, he has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by his rejection of G-d. Once he is gone, it is unreasonable to assume that his offspring who were raised with paganism will independently choose to return to G-d. Chances are high that they will remain pagan.

Put differently, if after four generations there is no return to G-d, this family will be wiped out. Perhaps this is the answer to the question of what happens to the fifth, sixth, etc. generations. There is no fifth generation.
A family that has held fast to pagan ways until the fourth generation is not going to return. They cease to be Jews who have strayed from G-d’s path.
This tragic family is no longer part of the People of Israel. After the fourth generation G-d is not angry anymore. The fifth generation pagan is not a straying Jew. He is simply a non-Jewish idolater.

We must all take careful account of the choices that we make. While we may choose to be closer or – G-d forbid – further from Judaism, our children are raised with our choices. The context for the choices that they make begins where our choices end. The lesson of the four generation pagan family is a positive one. Parenting does not end when our children reach adulthood. It does not even end with our children. As long as we are alive – as long as we see our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – we continue to influence them. We must continue to teach them because we are responsible for them for as long as we are with them

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