From the Mouth of Babes: Teach Your Children Well
Offspring: 1. A person’s child or children. 2. An animal’s young. 3. The product or result of something.
We spoke recently into the matter of improper relations. Staying with the idea of family, we look at children, the childish and childlike, the annoying and the adorable, particularly in relationships with their parents. It can be more serious than children being irritating or rude. It can mean life and death.
There are two verses in the Bible that seem to contradict one another. The Torah says, “The Lord.. visits the iniquity of the parents* upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Ex 34:5-7, Deu 5:9). Then, elsewhere, we are also told, “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.” (Deu 24:16).
So which is it? Are children punished for their parents’ behaviours, or not? The rabbis resolve the apparent contradiction by saying: the second situation refers to earthly courts, where the judges are instructed that each person is responsible for their own crime; and the first quote refers to the heavenly court, which decides on the ‘karmic’ responsibility of a person, and that this is often carried across the generations.
This is not merely monotheistic moralism. The Greeks had a similar teaching. In Phrixus, Euripides says, “The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children”. It also promotes the view that an innocent person might be punished for something done before they were born, and that the gods were ok with this.
This does not help us to make sense of the justice of a person being made to suffer for the wrong doings of their great-grandfather (or great-grandmothers). We need to understand the meaning of this. Perhaps some insight might be found in the often-used quote from Jung, about parents and children: “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents”.
This week, let’s us examine some of the threads that bind us to our children, and to our parents. Perhaps we can loosen some of the knots that are too tight, and re-secure the bonds that have become too loose.