Whenever an act such as last week’s shooting in the Hebron market takes place, we see the question of collective punishment return to the national agenda, and of course it is promptly denounced by secular and religious Jews alike. In Parshat Bo, the subject of collective punishment also tops the agenda, as we see all the Egyptians, without distinction, being smitten by the plagues.
As a comment on one of the verses in our parsha, our Sages shed light on the reason why the entire population, and not just the “bad guys” were smitten in Egypt. On the verse: “And the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Paro that sat on the throne to the firstborn of the prisoner that was in the dungeon”, the Sages immediately ask: “The prisoner, what was his sin?” After all, they themselves were captive in Egypt. And the Sages answer: “Because they were happy with all the decrees which Paro decreed on Israel.”
The sages are teaching us here the Jewish idea concerning a nation which as a whole enslaves or harms the Jewish People: Not only are the specific individuals who actively take part in the terrorizing of Jews punished, but the entire nation, from big to little are also punished, for they are happy about what their countrymen are doing.
From the Idea to the Halacha
This concept is codified into Jewish halacha (see Rambam, HilchotRozeach U-Shmirat Nefesh 4:11, and Kesef Mishnah, there; Shulchan Aruch,Yore Deah, 158:1. and Shach, there, and more), which determines that in time of war, one kills anyone who is part of the enemy nation. The aforementioned midrash explains the reasoning behind the halacha: When a nation fights us, there are no “innocent”. There are some who fight in the front, and some in the back, and they are all partners. In what way? The very fact that their hearts rejoice when Jews are killed or maimed (and let us not even discuss those who give cover) is enough for them to be halachically considered as soldiers fighting in the front lines.
What are the Arabs Happy About?
At first glance, it may appear harsh to punish someone just for beinghappy when Jews are bombed. But someone who understands the realities of today can appreciate the depth and justice of our Sages words. Here are two examples to illustrate our point:
The dancing and celebrations of the Arabs on the roofs of their houses while the Scud missiles of Sadaam Hussein were landing, as they prayed for the “destruction of Tel Aviv”.
After every suicide bombing, spontaneous and mass rejoicing eruptedamongst the Arab population, and the mass mourning that took place amongst the “Palestinian” people when the “engineer”, Yiche Iyash, (may his memory be blotted out) was exterminated. Certainly this tells us where the hearts and hopes of the Arabs lie. Even the Palestinian Authority could not overcome themsevles, as they shot 21 bullets while their great hero was being eulogized.
And so, do not the words of our Sages ring a bell, especially if wealter the style just a bit: “Because they were happy with all the bombs that Arabs planted against Israel?..”
Jewish Ethics: Truth and Normalacy
And so, when a terrorist attack against Jews is viewed as a patrioticact of the first order, there is no room for pity – not even on theso-called innocent ones. Such mercy will certainly lead to cruelty against the merciful, as the Sages warned us. It becomes quite evident that Jewish concepts are not only G-d’s absolute truth and thus should never be questioned, but they are also so brilliantly suited to man’s nature. And so it is no wonder then that these values were set down by the Creator of man Himself – and how it differs from the hypocritical man-made values of those dictated by Christian or western culture.