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Cowardice and Collective Judgment...

A Collective Judgment

Further thoughts on Parashat Bo...

by John J. Parsons

In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Bo) we read, "At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock" (Exod. 12:29). But how was it fair that all the Egyptians (and their animals) suffered for the sins of Pharaoh and his evil advisors? Well, first of all the wealth and indeed the very existence of the Egyptian people came through the merit of Joseph, who interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, saved the nation from famine, and brought the world's wealth into Egypt. Indeed it was an act of "collective ingratitude" for the Egyptian people to have "forgotten" this fact of their history and to willfully overlook the oppression of the Israelites. Moreover, because they were silent in the face of ongoing injustice and even genocide of the Jews, the LORD regarded the common Egyptian people just as blameworthy as those taskmaster who were simply "following orders" issued by the Pharaoh and his court. The principle is stated by Bonhoeffer: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act." Just like the slavery of ancient Egypt, the dreadful European Holocaust was also made possible because cowardly people made various excuses why they could not resist political evil. Dictators, tyrants, despots, big business CEOs, religious leaders, "civic" leaders, union leaders, gang leaders, etc., all gain their power through collusion with the people they govern. Wicked thugs and henchmen wink at evil because they are in line for a payoff, and the common people are intimated because of the threat of "political" violence... The Pharaoh's supposed strength - like the strength of all wicked leaders - ultimately came from lying to people who were only too willing to believe the lies... Beware of the crowd, chaverim...

Edmund Burke said, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Similarly, the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." As the German theologian Martin Niemoller said, "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Cowardice of the Crowd."

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