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THE TEN PLAGUES:
RATED "R" FOR RETRIBUTION

by Rabbi David Zauderer
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer

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Last Passover I gave a class about the seder and its symbolism, and after the class, a young man approached me and made the most bizarre statement to me.

He said that Passover is a terrible festival for children.

I was floored. Maybe Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur when the kids have to sit in the synagogue all day for all those boring services, but Passover?!! I used to love Passover as a child. How can anyone think that Passover, of all festivals, is terrible for children?

I asked him why he felt this way, and he told me something that I think you'll find very interesting and thought-provoking.

He said that at the Passover seder we all sit around eating matzah and drinking wine, and we celebrate the fact that God performed ten plagues to punish the Egyptians - including the murder of all Egyptian firstborn children. Should we allow our children to hear this?

Just imagine what would happen today if Hollywood were to produce a remake of the famous epic, "The Ten Commandments", and they would recreate the ten plagues exactly as the Torah claims they occurred - with frogs jumping into Egyptian's throats, and killer locusts, and the entire Egyptian army drowning in the sea as the Jewish people make it safely to the other side - as we read in this week's Torah portion. What kind of "rating" do you think the movie would get? Would you let your kids see it? I think not.

And yet we bring our children to the Passover seder each year to read about and celebrate these exact stories.

The man's got a point there, doesn't he?!

I believe, though, that the answer to this question, as well as the reason why, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever emerged from a Passover seder with "Post-Haggadic Traumatic Stress Disorder", is because there is a crucial difference between unjustified, wanton acts of violence, and justified retribution and punishment.

Allow me to explain, with a slight digression, on the subject of disciplining children.

In recent times, many "social scientists" have argued against disciplining children - even if just to give them a good spanking on the "you-know-where" when they deserve it or any other type of firm reprimand to the child - by pointing out that children who are "hit" by their parents will learn to hit their friends.

And they might have a good point - but only because our generation has begun to look upon children as our equals. Whereas in the olden days, many parents imparted to their children the idea that "We know what's good for you", and were strict disciplinarians who were definitely not "friends" to their children, today's parents have gone to the opposite extreme. We moderns are "closer" to our kids than our parents were to us and some will say that on account of our "buddy relationship" with our kids, we relate to them much better than our parents related to us - but the "downside" of this is that in our role as best friend to our children, we often tend to lose the perceived sense of authority that turns justified discipline into unjustified abuse.

We need to find that balance between friend and authority figure. But some today have simply gone too far. Their children are given an equal say in how they should be raised, and the parents seem no longer to be in charge.

In today's youth culture, a television show like "Father Knows Best" would probably be boycotted, as it would be considered politically incorrect and discriminatory against children! So it's no wonder, then, that when we discipline our kids, who think of us as their buddies, that they will resent it and ultimately learn from what we are doing to them that it's okay to hit someone when you want to get them to do something for you.

But that's not the way it should be, of course. Kids have to understand that they are not their parent's equals, and that parents are there to be role models for them and to set rules and standards which they need to obey in order that they grow up to become decent, caring members of society. And if we can get that across to our children, then when we discipline them, even if they won't always agree with us, at least they can accept that the disciplinary measure meted out to them is a punishment from those who are entrusted with their personal welfare and spiritual growth, and they won't extend that to their friends in school.

And that's exactly what I answered this young man who felt that Passover is not for kids.

We should never confuse the divine retribution that God brought upon the Egyptians (who had persecuted and tortured our people and who had thrown our children into the Nile, among other things), with the kind of wanton, unnecessary and unjustified violence and murder that we try to shield our children from in movies and computer games. There is a big difference between them. It's the difference between being "potched" or firmly disciplined by your father who knows what's best for you, and being hit by the class bully in school.

At the Passover seder, we teach our children that there is divine justice in the world, and that evil actions should not go unpunished, and that God, who is our Father in heaven, cares very much about the world and gets involved in making sure that the bad guys lose in the end.

And those are important lessons that our kids can live with - not just at the Passover seder, but the whole year round.

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Rabbi David Zauderer, formerly of Atlanta, writes from Toronto.

You are invited to read more Parshat Beshalach articles.

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