In Exodus 34:6-7 it is written

וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל־פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת: נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵׂא עָוֺן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד עֲוֺן אָבוֹת עַל־בָּנִים וְעַל־בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים׃

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; yet He does not completely clear [of sin] He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children's children, to the third and fourth generations.

It says that G-d forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, 3 different things. Yet it goes on to state that only the iniquity of the parents are passed along to the next 4 generations.

Is there any significance in the fact that the transgressions and sins of the parents are not also visited upon these 4 generations?


2 Answers 2


See Rashi who explains that חַטָּאָ (sin) are mistakes, עָוֺן (iniquity) refers to sinning knowingly, and פֶשַׁע (transgression) is rebellious behavior.

I suggest that what is done by accident is not an indication of who someone is and what they are passing on to their children, so it doesn't pass through the generations.

Something which is done rebelliously, due to its severity and blatant nature, is something which God will not leave for further generations to see how it develops.

Between the two is someone who is overall trying to serve God, but has messed up in some area. God grants them time to see how they will correct their behavior, but in the meantime they are passing the mistake on to their children. God is gracious by allowing them this time, but if through their life they do not fix what needs fixing, and also their children fail to fix it, then at some point the children will end up paying. At that point they will also pay for the errors of the preceding generations whom they learned from and failed to correct their mistakes.


How to read the Bible

Maimonides says in his Guide of the Perplexed 2:48 – that all things ascribed to G-d do not mean that G-d was directly involved; it happened according to the laws of nature.

Looking at the text in this way, it becomes easy to understand what the Bible is actually telling us. The Tanakh is certainly not ascribing emotions to G-d. While anthropomorphisms usually portray G-d performing human activities, anthropopathisms ascribe human emotions, though G-d does not have emotions. It follows that G-d does not become angry when you sin.

What is sin?

Sin (or Chet in Hebrew) is missing the mark. One can make repentance (return or do teshuva) but going to synagogue and returning only to find your wife still angry does not resolve the problem. My grandfather used to say, "you pay for other people's sin." Actions can have a long-lasting effect that lasts for generations. When G-d tells the Israelites that He will curse their children for their iniquities, it means that their children will suffer due to natural law. The Ralbag used exile as an example. If a person acts in an improper way and is exiled from the kingdom as his punishment, his children will be born in exile. See his commentary on Exodus 20:4-5. By using this same line of reasoning, we can see how other actions prompted more than a half dozen tragedies which afflicted King David, with the sole exception of the murder of tens of thousands of Israelites following David ordering a census, were the consequences that followed his adulterous relationship with Bat Sheva and the murder of her husband and the soldiers with him.


Whether you and others agree or not, there is another concept that I think we need to recognize. The world works according to the laws of nature. One of these laws is that every act has consequences. Whether or not G-d forgives, the consequences do not go away.

In short, you are right. Those who did wrong were punished after they repented (David also repented), but it was because of the consequences of their acts.

  • Thank you for taking the time to respond, however I don't feel that this answers my question.
    – ron
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:34
  • @ron Thank you for reading. Why do you feel that it does not answer the question?
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 16:35
  • I want to know if there are 3 types of bad behavior that G-d forgives (iniquity, transgression and sin), why is only one of these 3 (iniquity) visited upon the next 4 generations. Why aren't transgressions and sins also visited upon these generations as well?
    – ron
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 17:08
  • @ron Good question. The iniquity is visited by generations not because G-d curses innocent children for generations due to the parent's misdeed. Indeed the Torah says the father will not pay the sins of the son. What happens is natural law. Actions can have consequences that can last for generations and have long-lasting effects. Sins also visit the following generations. King David is such an example.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 17:13
  • Yes, I understand that point. But why are the words "transgression" and "sin" omitted from the line "He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children's children, to the third and fourth generations."?
    – ron
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 17:21

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