Discussing Divine Punishment With a Child

Earlier today I engaged in a hit-and-run post in which I asked who was Moshe Rabbeinu’s father. The impetus for this was in part a fragmented memory and in part the impact of having watched a movie with my son.

The two of us watched Prince of Egypt. The film has some issues but I wasn’t going to engage a five-year-old in a discussion of how the filmmakers might have taken some liberties with the movie.

Anyway, we watched a watered down version of the Exodus and it generated some tough questions. As the title of the post suggests one of the questions was in relation to divine punishment. It wasn’t the easiest topic to discuss as it really is quite involved.

There is the question of why people enslave others. That is a pretty serious talk in itself as it incorporates many elements such as prejudice. It actually ties in well with the M.L.K. discussion he and I had last month, but at the same time I try not to throw too many things at him at once.

So there we were with the question of what happened to the Egyptians who were in the Red Sea. He wanted to know what happened to them and why. And for a moment I was unsure of how to respond because I didn’t want to make G-d look bad.

That sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it. The atheists who read this probably got a kick out of that one. But it is true, I do believe and G-d and my personal belief is not a G-d of fire and brimstone.

Part of the question is why kill all of those Egyptians. Why not come up with some other miracle. You can part the Red Sea, surely you can make them go blind for a few minutes or make them take the wrong turn and end up in cleveland. Why kill.

I am not the first person to ask those questions and I have been part of discussions that dealt with that very topic, but they are a little too sophisticated for a five-year-old.

So we meandered around a bit and talked about how some people don’t like others and why it is important to judge people based upon what they do and how they behave. But I can’t say that we came to a conclusion that was satisfactory to me.

But I was rescued from this awkward place as we had to run to a birthday party. I still have to come up with some answers, but I have more time to do it.

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  1. Jack's Shack February 28, 2006 at 6:20 am


    You are right, there are tougher questions and I expect that in time my son will look to me for answers. I prefer not to use the “you’ll understand when youll grow up!”

    In part it is because I am not sure that I am satisfied with the answers.


    Good point, they were legitimate targets. However it doesn’t address why Hashem didn’t cause them to go blind.

    Were all of Pharoah’s army bad? Were they evil, did they all deserve death.

    And certainly the slaying of the first of the first born seems to me about as severe a punishment as could be meted out.

    I just wonder sometimes if there wasn’t another way.

  2. Elie February 28, 2006 at 2:32 am

    The Egyptians who died in the sea were not the common populace – they were Pharoah’s army who were in hot pursuit of the Jews to kill and/or re-enslave them. In modern terminology, they were legitimate direct military targets.

    And in fact the Jews are told later not to hate the Egyptian people, since their oppressors were the king and his army, not the common folk.

    Now if you want to raise a more difficult question on the story, there’s always makkas bechoros [death of the first born]…

  3. Pragmatician February 27, 2006 at 10:02 am

    Well If you gonna try to understand G-D I have tougher questions, He killed the Egyptians because they enslaved the Jews, tortured them and tried to kill them even after they officialy set them free!
    Of course a 5 year old could ask “Why didn’t He force them to make Teshuvah?”
    Why not try the good ol’ you’ll understand when youll grow up!

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