“There’s nothing new under the sun” – as the old adage goes (see Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 1:9). It seems like we as humanity spend our days asking and answering the same old questions, year in year out, generation in generation out. Whether it’s due to headlines about racism or the question of abortion or protests from animal-rights activists – the debate concerning the sanctity of life has been raging since the dawn of time. The question, I suppose is actually very simple – are all lives equally valuable?
The Bible, as you might expect, has a lot to say concerning the sanctity of life and this topic is the central focus of this week’s parasha. Paraschat Bo is the climax of the Exodus story where God works great miracles to bring us out of Egypt. Although we might be tempted to concentrate on our liberation from slavery in Egypt there is more here at stake than just our deliverance on that night. The real focus of this passage is the question that is being asked by people all around the world even at this very moment – are all lives equally valuable?
We start the passage with God explaining to Moses how He is going to free our people by one last plague. It’s going to be a particularly brutal one – each first born child of the Egyptians are going to die and this will result in the Pharaoh finally relenting and sending us out of Egypt. But that is just the start of the blood and gore – God explains that we Israelites must sacrifice a young lamb and daub the blood on the doorpost of our homes in order to prevent our first born from dying as well! By God’s grace we do this and are spared from the death that falls on the Egyptians. God’s plan works and Pharaoh sends us out as soon as possible.
Why are all the Egyptian households punished?
As we read the passage, we are confronted with immediate questions. Why are all the Egyptian households punished? Why do we have to kill a lamb in order to survive? Why did those lambs have to die even though they’ve done nothing wrong? This whole episode seems to show us that God is trying to communicate something much deeper to us than simply the one-off event of deliverance from slavery. Ultimately we will never know whether any of them decided to follow what we Israelites were doing with the lamb, but Scripture does tell us that after the whole event a “mixed multitude” came out of Egypt with us (Shemot/Exodus 12:38). Perhaps some Egyptians had realised that God was a God was not to be messed with and that they wanted to be wherever he was. They had a choice, and it seems like some of them made the right one.
Now let’s compare our Jewish people. In all the plagues up until this point, we were never really required to do anything. God simply made a distinction between us and the Egyptians by bringing the plagues on them and not on us. However, when it comes to this tenth plague we are given very specific instructions and the implication is that if we don’t follow them, we will share the same fate as the Egyptians! But why? Had we done anything wrong? We weren’t the oppressors, so why would we be punished for something that we hadn’t done? Perhaps this was God’s way of testing us – were we really willing to listen and obey Him? In a sense, it is also God’s way of showing us that He views all lives as equally valuable. Although He had chosen us for a specific purpose, He was well aware that we were not perfect, that we too had done wrong things. In that sense, God is not partisan.
Why did those lambs have to die even though they’ve done nothing wrong?
Finally, let’s look at the lambs. If we are going to have sympathy for anyone in the story, perhaps it should be for these helpless bystanders who were caught in the crossfire in a war between Egypt and us Jewish people. These lambs died so that their blood could be used as a sign to mark us in a way that we would avoid death by the Destroyer. These helpless lambs died, so that we could live, even though they had never done anything to deserve death.
It seems mighty unfair for those lambs. And it is – but God did it to show us something else much more unfair than the death of those lambs. Despite their innocence in the matter, these lambs, just like everything on this world were fundamentally affected by the ruining of the world caused by our first parents Adam and Eve thousands of years earlier. As a direct result of their disobedience, sin and therefore death came into the world and caused everything to be broken and ruined. We are all flawed and not who we were supposed to be, those Passover lambs were also flawed and not supposed to be what they were supposed to be. Several hundreds of years later God sent the Messiah Yeshua to die for our wrongdoing and to rise from the dead to give us eternal life. Unlike those Passover lambs, the Messiah was perfect. Indeed, Scripture tells us that the Messiah was God Himself (see e.g. Yeshayahu/Isaiah 9:6)! But very much like those Passover lambs, the Messiah Yeshua gave up his perfect life so that we could live. The story of the Passover is essentially our story – rescued from certain destruction by the death of one that hadn’t deserved death. It definitely wasn’t fair that those lambs died, but how much more was it not fair that God Himself would take on human form and die for us all?! But that’s the nature of grace – it is unfair.
Back to the question at hand. The very fact that the Messiah Yeshua came and died for us is confirmation in itself that God views all humans as equal. All have done wrong, all are deserving of God’s anger and yet all can be rescued if they are willing to put their trust in the Messiah who is able to save. God doesn’t make a distinction by race, or gender or nationality – He cares about us all and wants us all to be in a relationship with Him. Are we willing to take the one way out that He has given us so that we can be rescued or will we continue to try and come up with our own ideas? And, if all lives are equally valuable to God, how do you value your own life? Don’t you want to get to know the God who loved your life so much that He was willing to die for you?
“Life is beautiful” – or are all lives equally valuable?