Today, many people are troubled by the story of the plagues. Why did G-d have to cause such destruction? Why did G-d have to ‘harden the heart’ of the Pharaoh so that he would not permit the Jews to leave? Why did G-d have to kill innocent children?
On One Hand: The Joys of Justice!
Rabbi Jacob Halevi Moulin (15th c, Germany an era of pogroms and expulsions) "The sixteen drops refer to the sixteen facets of God's avenging sword."
1. "When the wicked perish, There are shouts of joy!" (Proverbs 11:10)
2. The Song of the Red Sea "Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea Then Moshe and Israel sang to the Lord Your right hand Lord, shatters the Foe. The Foe said: 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil. My desire shall have its fill of them. I will bare my sword,' But You, God, made your wind blow the sea covered them" (Ex. 14:31; 15:1,9-10.
3. President Abraham Lincoln "If every drop of blood drawn by the lash must be paid by one drawn by the sword, still must it be said, The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" (Psalm. 19: Second Inaugural Address, 1865).
4. Rabbi Shalom from Notch On the seventh day of Pesach (the anniversary of the crossing of the Red Sea), one should be sure to add the phrase 'the day of our joy" (simchatenu) to the Kiddush, for the Egyptians were drowned in the sea.
5. Shylock "My Revenge! He hath disgraced me, and hindred me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends heated mine enemies and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (William Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice", 1597).
On the other Hand: Restraints on Revenge
1. "If your enemy falls, Do not celebrate. If he trips, Let not your heart rejoice" (Proverbs 24:17).
2. Rabbi Yochanan "God is not happy at the downfall of the wicked. When the angels tried to sing songs of praise to God at the Red Sea, God silenced them: My handiwork, my human creatures, are drowning in the sea and you want to sing a song of praise?'" B. Megillah 10b).
3. Don Isaac Abrabanel (refugee of the Expulsion from Spain, 1492) "By spilling a drop of wine, from the Pesach cup for each plague, we acknowledge that our own joy is lessened and incomplete. For our redemption had to come by means of the pun- ishment of other human beings. Even though these are just punishments for evil acts, it says 'Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy (Proverbs 24:17).
4. Rabbi Simcha Cohen from Divinsk (Lithuanian Talmudist) The Torah never mentions 'joy' in rela tion to the holiday of Pesach as it does for Shavuot and Sukkot. On Pesach unlike the other pilgrimage holidays we do not recite all the Psalms of Hallel (except the first day) because as Shmuel quotes from Proverbs: In the downfall of your enemy, do not rejoice. We celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, not the downfall of the Egyptians
5. Chief of Staff, General Yitzhak Rabin, Six Day War, June 1967 (later Prime Minister of the State of Israel- 1974-1975 1992-1995) "War is harsh and cruel, filled with blood and tears. While the joy of victory seized the whole people, among the community of fighters themselves there is a strange phenomenon: they cannot celebrate whole-heartedly. There is a large measure of sadness, of shock mixed into their festivities. Some fighters cannot celebrate at all. The frontline sol diers saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory, but also its price their fellow fighters fell at their sides in pools of blood. I know that the price paid by the enemy also touched a deep place in the hearts of many. Perhaps the Jewish people has never been educated and never become accus tomed to the joy of the conqueror Therefore, our victory is received with mixed feelings
6. Bruria and the Hoodlums – A Story
A gang of hoodlums lived in Rabbi Meirs neighborhood and they used to torment him endlessly. Rabbi Meir prayed for their death. His wife Bruria said to him: "How did you reach such a decision?" He replied: 'The Bible says Let sins be obliterated from the earth (Psalms 104:35). She answered: "Is it written sinners? The verse says 'sins'. Look fur- ther to the end of the verse And the wicked will be no more' (Psalms 104:35) Since all sins will be obliterated, then of course the wicked will be no more. Therefore, pray that these hoodlums repent and then they will not be wicked' anymore Rabbi Meir prayed for them and they indeed mended their ways. (2nd C. Eretz Yisrael, Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 10a) Reflections on Vengeance "You shall not take vengeance nor bear a grudge against your people. Rather you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:18-19 "Whoever takes vengeance destroys his own house" (R. Papa, TB. Sanhedrin 102 b) Don't say, since I have been humiliat- ed; let my neighbor be humiliated also Know! It is the image of God, you would be humiliating in your neighbor (Ben Azzai, Tanhima Gen. R. 24:7) "This shall be our revenge! We shall revive what they kill, and raise what they topple...This is the banner of our vengeance and its name is Jerusalem (Peretz Smolenskin, Zionist, 1882)
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