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Devarim 24:16

Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression.

Here is a passuk most people are familiar with. However, while reading last week's parsha (Shelach), I noticed an intriguing passuk that seems to contradict the above statement in Devarim.

Bamidbar 14:18

'The Lord is slow to anger and abundantly kind, forgiving iniquity and transgression, Who cleanses [some] and does not cleanse [others], Who visits the iniquities of parents on children, even to the third and fourth generations.'

(The translation of the passukim are from Chabad.org)

There is something I do not understand here. G-d says he punishes the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations, but later says that if a father sins, the children should not be held accountable and vice-versa. Am I missing something here? I checked in Rashi but he does not comment on the seemingly apparent contradiction.

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The Gemara in Meseches Brachos 7a says the following addressing this seeming "contradiction":

(Source from Sefaria.org)

והא כתיב (שמות לד, ז) פקד עון אבות על בנים וכתיב (דברים כד, טז) ובנים לא יומתו על אבות ורמינן קראי אהדדי ומשנינן לא קשיא הא כשאוחזין מעשה אבותיהם בידיהם הא כשאין אוחזין מעשה אבותיהם בידיהם

But it is written (Exoudus 34:7) "Who accounts the sin of the fathers upon the children" and it is written (Deut. 24:16) "..and the sons shall not die becuase of the (sins of their) fathers' " (How do can we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory verses?). We learn that it is not difficult, this (verse) is when they are holding onto (the wicked) deeds of their fathers in their hands (like their own) and this (verse) is when they are not holding (the wicked) deed of their fathers' 1

Hope this is helpful!


1 Additionally for further insight see the Gemara in Makkos 24a about the prophets nullifying four decrees of Moshe and the Maharsha's commentary (in Chidushei Agados) (ibid.)

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The "9 Attributes" verse in Parshas Shelach (Bamidbar 14:18) is a parallel (not quite a mirror) of the "13 Attributes" in Parshas Ki Sisa (Shemos 34:6-7). The phrase "... visits the iniquities of parents on children, etc." is present in both verses, as well as in the Aseres Hadibros (in both Yisro and Va'eschanan). Rashi on the other verses is more verbose than he is here.

Targum Onkelos in Shelach and Yisro translates פקד עון אבות על בנים as מסער חובי אבהן על בנין מרדין (adding the adjective "rebelious" to "the children"). Targum on the Aseres Hadibros goes further and adds the explanatory phrase: כד משלמין בניא למחטי בתר אבהתהון (when the sons continue sinning after their fathers). Rashi quotes this Targum both ad loc. and on the 13 Attributes: כשאוחזים מעשה אבותיהם בידיהם.

Although Rashi in Shelach does not quote this distinction, I believe it can be understood the same way.

  • How is this different from the other answer? – Double AA Jun 20 '17 at 13:10
  • @DoubleAA Quoting Rashi and Targum, including the Targum on the verse the OP asked about. – Menachem Jun 21 '17 at 4:38

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