When a leader mistreats people, is it just for the people he rules to be punished collectively for the crimes of the ruler? In parashat Bo, the final plague that is brought upon Egypt is the Death of the First Born. God tells Moses: “Toward midnight I will go forth among the Egyptians, and every first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the first-born of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; and all the first born of the cattle.” (Ex. 11: 4-5) When we read the story of the Exodus, we cannot help but be troubled by the knowledge that innocent people (even animals) died for our people’s freedom. Shouldn’t God’s version of justice here be questioned, just as Abraham asked God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do justly?” (Gen. 18:25) I will take up this challenging text in my sermon at Shabbat services on Friday.
Rabbi D. Feingold