“The Lord! The Lord! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generation” (Exod.34.6-7)
Actually, this last sentence is a misleading translation. The word for ‘generation’ does not appear in the Hebrew text: it has been added by translators who have presumed this meaning – which to us seems phenomenally cruel and unfair. But this is not at all what was meant. God does not punish innocent children for their parents’ wrongdoing. (It is true that children often suffer as a result of the poor choices their parents make, but this is not God’s fault.)
The Kabbalah interprets this statement as referring to the reincarnation of a soul. When an individual ‘sins’ (which, in Hebrew, means ‘misses the mark’: i.e., a ‘sin’ is simply our own spiritual ‘lack’), and fails to make the necessary correction, he or she must return in another lifetime and try again. And, interestingly enough, there is evidently a maximum of four chances. After that, if the problem has been merely ignored, God’s Judgment seems to decree that the soul will disappear into nothingness. But so long as any progress is being made by the fourth incarnation, any progress, God’s Mercy imposes no limit on the number of incarnations (even ‘thousands’!) that are allowed until the ‘mark’ is reached.
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