To the Fourth Generation

Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.

"The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers [parents] upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation." 1

This quote from Exodus also appears as one of the more important prayers in the prayer book 2. However, there, the italicized part is omitted, ignoring one of those demonstrated proofs of the Torah.

We now know that most of our behavioral traits are established before we are eight years old. This is the result of the environment in which we were raised. These traits mainly determine our behaviors for the rest of our lives. Furthermore, as long as we remain in that environment, our future generations will largely display the same traits. This is why God told Abram to "go forth".

In our society today, we see areas where violence, crime, drug use, etc. pass from generation to generation until people are compelled to "go forth". Indeed, in our culture, God visits the sins of the populationupon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation.

Footnotes

1. Exodus 34:6-7 (italics and parenthesis added)

2. For example: Siddur Tehilllat Hashem (Chabad), pg.183 and The Standard Prayer Book, tr. by Simeon Singer, (1915) pg. 210