Stanza Three, like the others, is absolutely vehement:
ואם יש-צדק – יופע מיד!
אך אם-אחרי השמדי מתחת רקיע
ימגר-נא כסאו לעד!
וברשע עולמים שמים ימקו;
אף-אתם לכו, זדים, בחמסכם זה
ובדמכם חיו והנקו.
And if there is justice, let it shine forth now!
But if, after I am rubbed out from beneath the sky,
justice shines forth –
let its throne be cast down forever!
And let heaven rot in the evil of the ages;
and you go, the arrogant, in this violence of yours,
and live by your blood, and be cleansed by it.
An intramural debate is found in the Hebrew Bible around the topic of transference of the consequences of sin from one generation to the next. Key textual players in the debate include: Exod 20:5; 34:7; Deut 5:9; 7:10; Jer 31:29-31; Ezek 18; Isa 53.
A synthesis of the contrasting positions is not found in the Bible. On the one hand, it is up to each generation to forge a reply to the underlying question according to the lights God has provided it. On the other hand, it is necessary to bow humbly before the problem and leave it unresolved.
I realize that by putting it this way, some people’s preconceptions about what the Bible is and how it communicates truth are blown out of the water. What can I say? Get over it. If you haven’t noticed that the expression of truth however defined sometimes involves allowing two or more statements in logical contradiction to one another to stand next to one another, and remain in tension with another, I don’t think there’s much hope for you.
Bialik’s fierce desire for timely justice is in accordance with the principle enunciated in Deut 7:10: “[God] who instantly requites with destruction those who reject Him –never slow with those who reject Him, but requiting them instantly.” Ezek 18 moves within the same set of presuppositions: “The person who sins, he shall die, he alone.”
Reality is another matter. In the world as we know it, children and grandchildren pay a price, even the price of their own lives, for the sins of their fathers and mothers. Within one and the same generation, the righteous pay a price, even the price of their own lives, for the sins of the unrighteous. A firefighter is killed because of the act of an arsonist. A policeman is killed by someone seeking to commit suicide by cop. At the same time, justice is delayed, perpetrators go unpunished, and the innocent despair. Vicarious punishment and suffering are dynamics at the very heart of human existence. Justice which skips over those who commit injustice is not justice at all. But that is what we see around us.
Bialik sees this and calls a spade a spade. So long as “this” is the case, the God of Deut 7:10 and Ezek 18 does not exist. Whoever occupies the throne of justice in place of that God is the object of Bialik’s protest.
If the kind of justice Deut 7:10 and Ezek 18 envision cannot exist, then it is better that there exist no justice at all. Let heaven rot and the wicked reign.
Here is the vocalized text:
וְאִם יֶשׁ-צֶדֶק – יוֹפַע מִיָּד!
אַךְ אִם-אַחֲרֵי הִשָּׁמְדִי מִתַּחַת רָקִיעַ
הַצֶּדֶק יוֹפִיעַ –
יְמֻגַּר-נָא כִסְאוֹ לָעַד!
וּבְרֶשַׁע עוֹלָמִים שָׁמַיִם יִמָּקּוּ;
אַף-אַתֶּם לְכוּ, זֵדִים, בַּחֲמַסְכֶם זֶה
וּבְדִמְכֶם חֲיוּ וְהִנָּקוּ.