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    The lingering sin – Ki Tissa

    In Chapter 32 verse 34 of Sh’mot, God tells the Israelites that His angel will go before them in the wilderness, but if they sin, no angel will save them from punishment.

    What sin are we talking about, and what punishment?

    The sin is whatever it happens to be, but Rashi follows an idea in the Talmud by saying that if they sin, God will add to it a little of the wrong that was committed with the Golden Calf and punish them not only for what they did today but what their ancestors did long before.

    It’s a difficult idea since the normal Jewish principle (set out, e.g., in Ezekiel chapter 18) is that people are punished for their own sins, not for anything their ancestors might have done (Deut. 24:16).

    The explanation might be that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, as the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:5) tells us, if the children continue the sinfulness of their ancestors (Talmud B’rachot 7a).

    The implication seems to be that anyone who does the wrong thing must bear in mind that not only will he or she be punished personally, but if their descendants commit a wrong, it will show that the ancestors did not repent sufficiently to entirely eradicate the effect of their own sin.

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