This week I want to concentrate on one mitzvah in this parasha:
Generally this is understood to refer to legal punishment:
And the contrast is to ה׳'s punishment, where apparently ה׳ will take one’s ancestor’s sins into account:
But why does there need to be an explicit statement, איש בחטאו יומתו? Isn’t that obvious, as a fundamental principle of justice? Actually, it isn’t obvious. I might think, that if you caused me to lose a child, the only just punishment is for you to lose a child. And that idea was codified into ancient law:
But the Torah says that is wrong, and explicitly rules it out in ספר שמות:
And even the pasuk about G-d’s justice is generally understood to mean “visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons” only if those sons are themselves guilty:
Seforno takes a different approach, that this is not addressed to judges but to kings:
And this interpretation is explicitly mentioned in תנ״ך:
But Rashi (based on a דרשה in the Sifrei) has a completely different interpretation:
And the Targum puts them both together:
And that’s the way the halacha is decided.
But Rashi adds a twist:
So Rashi is taking פקד עון אבות על בנים literally, and saying that our pasuk only applies to human judgement, but ה׳ will punish minor children for the sins of the their fathers. Where does Rashi get his interpretation? Not only does it seem horribly unjust, but it is not taken from any statement of חז״ל. It seems to be Rashi’s own דרשה.
Abraham brought up the injustice problem:
But it does seem that G-d punishes children:
And there is such an idea in the gemara:
How are we to understand this? The approach I will take is from the analysis of הרב רן כלילי, from the hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim.
יחזקאל talks about this subject:
And here it is explicitly ה׳ saying that He will not make children suffer for the sins of their parents, בן לא ישא בעון האב. The Gemara says that this was a change:
How can יחזקאל ”nullify“ a principle of the Torah? Rav Kook says that it was related to his role as a נביא of the חורבן:
Inherently, we as a people share a common destiny:
So the destruction of whole families is a sign that we are one people, with one common fate. The חורבן resulted in the dissolution of that bond:
הקטנים מתים בעון אבותם בידי שמים is a consequence of our common ברית גורל. Removing that means removing the connection between generations. And that connection needs to be restored to allow the final גאולה: