Collective Punishment and Collective Responsibility

Did all Egyptians deserve to be punished?

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Silence in the Face of Injustice

This fits into the story of the Exodus in some fascinating ways. Even if one wanted to argue that the Egyptian servants and captives were unable to stop the enslavement of the Israelites, their silence was damning. Their punishment is perhaps a message to us: that to be silent in the face of injustice is to be implicated in the act itself.

Even those of us who are far from being Pharaohs have tremendous powers of influence over both local and world events. We can heed the call to responsibility by working to ensure that no one in our neighborhoods goes hungry and that all have adequate childcare; we can call our elected officials and demand a forceful response to oppressive regimes around the world. We can use our individual and collective economic clout by refraining from purchasing from companies that engage in unfair labor practices; we can vote for government officials who care about working families. Compared to the servant woman or captive in a dungeon in biblical Egypt, we are all nearly Pharaohs. Along with that power comes great responsibility, as there is always something that we can do to combat injustice.

This acceptance of global responsibility has galvanized a worldwide response to the atrocities taking place in Sudan and around the world. Thus, rather than a cause for despair or consternation, the collective punishment of the ten plagues should be a spur to action. From the most powerful to the least, we each have a role to play. In a world in which anyone suffers for naught, we are all, collectively, and each, individually, responsible for doing what we can to stop that suffering.

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Adina Gerver

Adina Gerver, a freelance writer and editor, is studying at the Advanced Scholars Program of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She has served as assistant director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning and program officer at the Covenant Foundation.