Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Binyamin Kahane – Parsha Bo
He’ll Pay For That Grin
Whenever an act of “Jewish terror” occurs, such as Baruch Goldstein’s shooting in Me’arat Ha’Maclpela, the question of collective punishment returns to the national agenda, and of course the concept is promptly denounced by secular and religious Jews alike.
In Parsha Bo, collective punishment plays a prominent role, as we read of all the Egyptians, without distinction, being smitten by the plagues. But why does G-d punish everyone? Why not just punish the “bad guys”? Indeed, our rabbis ask the very same question. On the verse, “And the L-rd smote all the firstborn in the Land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the firstborn of the prisoners who was in the dungeon: (Exodus 12:29), the Rabbis ask: “What sin did the prisoners commit?” After all, they themselves were themselves were captives in Egypt. The Rabbis answer: “Because they were happy with the decrees Pharaoh inflicted upon Israel” (Tanchuma, Bo 7).
With this comment, the Rabbis teach us the proper attitude toward a nation which collectively harms the Jewish people. They teach us that not only should the specific individuals who terrorize Jews be punished, but the entire nation – even its least significant member – should suffer since the country’s policies please all of them.
This rule is codified in Jewish law (see Rambam, Hilchot Ratzeacg U’Shmirat Nefesh 4:11 with the Kesef Mishmah’s commentary and Yo’re De’ah 158:1 with the Shach’s commentary), which determines that in time of war, one kills anyone who is part of the enemy nation. The aforementioned Midrash makes clear the rationale behind the law. When a nation fights us there are no “innocents.” There are some who fight in the front and some in the back. But they are all in it together. The very fact that their hearts rejoice when Jews are killed or maimed (we won’t even discuss those who give cover) is enough for them to be considered soldiers fighting on the front lines, according to halachic
Every time a suicide bomb explodes in Israel, the Arab street erupts into spontaneous celebration. The solidarity of the people with their “martyrs” is plain for all to see. Indeed, when the “engineer” Yahya Ayyash was killed earlier this month, there was mass mourning among the “Palestinian people.” Even Palestinian Authority officials could not restrain themselves as they shot 21 bullets while their great hero was being eulogized. Certainly this tells us where the hearts and hopes of the Arab masses lie.
In light of such facts, do not the worlds of our Rabbis resonate today – especially if we alter their words just slightly: “Because they were happy with all the bombs planted against Israel. . .”?
In conclusion, when a terrorist attack against Jews is viewed by Arabs as a patriotic act of the first order, there is no room for pity – not even on the so-called innocent ones. Such mercy will only lead to cruelty against the merciful, as the Rabbis warned us
Written in Darka shel Torah 1996
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