[לקובץ המאמרים על בכורים ובכורה, לחצו כאן] [For articles on the “Sabbath of Ba" in Hebrew, click here]Updated on January 23, 2023
Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem.
He is the rabbi of Congregation Shalom Bayit in Bend, Oregon.
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In preparation for their imminent exodus from Egypt that included the marking out of the door frame of all Israelite dwellings, Moses instructed the people to stay indoors until the morning after the devastating Tenth Plague ran its course (Exodus 12:22). This curfew's purpose, says Rashi, was to protect the Israelites on a night that would be filled with terror and agony for each Egyptian household.
Indeed, the agent of destruction operating a mission for God might not be able to distinguish at this hellacious time between Egyptians and Hebrews (like the Almighty did in all preceding plagues), if the Israelites ventured outside. And since no Hebrew should rely on a miracle whilst taking a gratuitous and an egregious risk to his very safety, especially on the night when the plague of death visited everywhere, Moses ordered every man to stay indoors throughout that dreadful night.
Rabbi Ash Tamrat (cited in Itturei Torah) has another insight; Moses ordered the nightly lockdown to comply with the value "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles'' (Proverbs, 24:17). This teaching expresses the same idea that appears earlier in that book: ''He who gloats at one's calamity shall be held guilty" (17:5b).
Hence, Moses sought to avert the possibility that the Israelites would have glee upon seeing the disaster that descended on the Egyptians as a whole; a nation that besides evil monarch and an ''executive branch'' produced also the first ''righteous gentiles'' of the Bible -- the midwives Shifra and Puah -- and a woman, who happened to be the Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted Moses out of sheer compassion. In so doing she did not only become the Bible's first civil disobedient, but taught Moses also how to become the most humble individual of all times.
It is apparent that the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt did not rejoice upon the death of the Pharaoh, the king who instigated the systematic killing of the Hebrew male babies and the harsh enslavement of the Hebrews (Exodus 2:23). Similarly, we see no jubilation over the havoc wreaked by the ten plagues in Egypt, and especially following the final blow. Fittingly, no gloating was recorded in Israel (or elsewhere in the Jewish world) either after Adolf Eichman was brought to Israel from Argentina to face justice for his crimes against humanity, or after his execution in 1961.
However, despite Proverbs' admonition against ''spiking the football'' in the face of a foe who just suffered a calamitous blow or downfall, it apparently takes a contradicting stance in saying: ''...And when the wicked perish, there is joy'' (11:10) because such a source of trouble and evil had ceased to exist. Indeed, what Moses might have tried to prevent on the night of the Tenth Plague, Moses' Song of the Sea – of next week's Torah portion --- upends. Arguably, there is a difference between rank and file Egyptians, not to mention the poor classes and even inmates in the prison system whose first-born were felled by the plague, though they were not personally involved in perpetrating the horrors of slavery and infaniticide, and Egypt's elite cavalry force that chased the Israelites in order to force them back to Egypt, only to meet their demise in the raging water of the Sea of Reed that closed on them.
[Picture: no gloating was recorded in Israel (or elsewhere in the Jewish world) either after Adolf Eichman was brought to Israel from Argentina to face justice for his crimes against humanity, or after his execution in 1961. Government Press Office]
Moses' Song of the Sea shows no compassion for those charioteers who ''were sunk in the Sea of Reed... like lead in mighty waters.'' There is little doubt that the song celebrates the drowning of the Egyptian mighty force, rather than rejoicing in Israel's own survival at the sea; likewise Miriam's very song that follows the Song of the Sea. The Talmud also informs us that even embryos in their mothers' wombs, and suckling infants, participated in the singing; a singing inspired by the spirit of God, even at the sight of Egypt's dead horsemen who were washed ashore.
Though we take note that there is no specific blessing that one should recite upon hearing about the demise of the wicked -- a foe that a whole group holds as a villain -- and therefore it is not a religious imperative to rejoice over its downfall, doing so may express a relief that the wicked will no longer harm more victims; as such it would be natural and appropriate. Moses' prohibiting the Israelites to venture out of their homes when the Tenth Plague was in force was not only a precautionary measure to safeguard them. It likely also sought to shield the Israelites from succumbing to misplaced sentiments of vengeance and cruelty and distance them from developing such debasing traits.
[Picture: Moses' Song of the Sea shows no compassion for those charioteers who ''were sunk in the Sea of Reed... like lead in mighty waters.'' [The rights holder in this image has not been located. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. The main rights holder, please contact: email@example.com]
Holocaust survivor Felix Kolmer expresses a similar thinking in his book Life Forbidden: ‘’I saw thousands of dead who had died as a consequence of inhuman maltreatment…In spite of that I haven’t any hatred in my heart. I consider hatred to be something that deprives me of the space for positive deeds…and I want…to still actively pursue such deeds.’’