A Generation Goes and a Generation Comes
“Our Rabbis taught: The spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7)—give it back to Him as He gave it to you, in a state of purity. This may be compared to a mortal king who distributed royal robes to his servants. The wise among them folded them up and put them away in a chest, while the fools among them went and worked in them. After some time, the king wanted his garments. The wise returned them clean, while the fools returned them soiled. The king was pleased with the wise; but he was angry with the fools. Concerning the wise he said, ‘Let the garments be returned to the storehouse, and they return to their homes in peace.’ Concerning the fools he said, ‘Let the garments be given to the laundry, while they be confined in jail.’ Similarly, the blessed Holy One. Concerning the bodies of the righteous He says, Let them come in peace, they will rest on their couches (Isaiah 57:2), and concerning their souls He says, The soul of my lord will be bound in the bundle of life (1 Samuel 25:29). Concerning the bodies of the wicked He says, There is no peace for the wicked, says YHWH (Isaiah 48:22), and concerning their souls He says, The souls of your enemies He will sling from the hollow of a sling (1 Samuel 25:29)” (BT Shabbat 152b).
Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens—Your handiwork. They will perish and You will yet stand. They will all wear away like a garment. Like clothing You change them, and they pass away. But You—Your years never end (Psalms 102:26–27).
“What is generation to generation (Psalms 146:10)? Rabbi Papias said: A generation goes and a generation comes (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Rabbi Akiva said: ‘The generation already came.’
A parable: To what can the matter be compared? To a king who had servants, and clad them in garments of silk and embroidery in accordance with his wealth. They went astray, so he cast them out and pushed them away and removed his garments. They went on their way. He took the garments and washed them well, until no stain was left on them, and he kept them with him, ready. He then acquired other servants and clad them in those garments, not knowing whether these servants were good or not. So they partook of garments that had already come into the world, and that others had worn before them. [A generation goes and a generation comes.] But the earth endures forever (Ecclesiastes 1:4). This is the same as And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7)” (Bahir §121–§122).
“Why are there wicked who prosper and righteous who suffer? Because the righteous man was previously wicked in the past and is now being punished. Now, should you say, ‘Is a man punished for [the sins of] his youth? Has not Rabbi Shim’on said that one is only punished by the heavenly court from one’s twentieth year and on? Say to them: I am not speaking of the [present] life, but of that which was in the past.’ His companions said to him, ‘How much longer will you conceal your words?’ He replied, ‘Go and see. This is like a person who has planted a vineyard in his garden to bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. He saw that he was not succeeding, so he replanted it, placed a fence around it, repaired the breaches, pruned the wild grapes, and planted it a second time. He saw that he was not succeeding—he again fenced it off, and again replanted it after pruning.’ How many times? He said to them, ‘Until a thousand generations, as is written: The word He ordained for a thousand generations (Psalms 105:8).’ It is in relation to this that they said, ‘974 generations were lacking [since the Torah was not given until the twenty-sixth generation]…. The blessed Holy One stood up and planted them in each generation’ (BT Ḥagigah 13b)” (Bahir §195).
“Inflicting the guilt of the fathers upon sons, upon the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5, cf. Ezekiel 18:20)—a single tree, planted once, twice, three times, and four times, and punished for its initial sins. Father, son, third, and fourth are one—when not mended and not caring to be mended [i.e., for My foes (ibid.)]. Correspondingly, the opposite of this, for a tree restored fittingly and standing firm” (Zohar 2:91b).
And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither—and in all that he does he prospers (Psalms 1:3).
“Since we have begun to reveal, now is the time to reveal all. Souls, issue from a grand and mighty tree of that river issuing from Eden, and all spirits issue from another, small tree. נְשָׁמָה (Neshamah), soul, from above; רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, from below—joining as one, like male and female…. When joining as one, they shine supernal radiance, and in the joining of the two of them, they are called, נֵר (ner), lamp, of YHWH (Proverbs 20:27)” (Zohar 2:99b).