THE BLOG
04/12/2012 11:11 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

Tough Passover Questions: How Can We Accept Killing Innocent Lives to Attain Freedom?

Leaving the Passover seder, I looked over at my oldest son sitting in the back seat as he was hooking himself up to his iPod and thought: If the two of us had been Egyptians during Pharaoh's reign, we would have been killed by God since we are first-born males. Instead, we are one and half Jews (his mother is not Jewish) leaving my parent's house alive with a tupperware full of brisket, a stomach ache (me), a copy of the New Yorker and a couple of tickets for an expensive modern dance performance.

Per the Haggadah and Wikipedia, Passover is the holiday to celebrate freedom and the exit of enslaved Jews from Egypt. But it is also a holiday that encourages asking questions, as exemplified by the four sons: the wicked, the wise, the simple and the one that does not know how to ask. I am not sure which category pertains to me, most likely something along this run-on sentence: "The one who is always looking to complicate matters and just can't just accept things as they are and leave it at that."

The one question that would not go away when I got home, as I was searching frantically for the Pepto-Bismol, was not: Where is the Alka-Seltzer? But a more thorny one: How can we accept that it is OK to kill innocent lives in order to attain freedom?

For 44 years I have read, pretended to read, heard, slept through or spaced out through the reading of the Haggadah. For some reason, this time around, I seemed to focus on how screwy and shocking it was that the final action to attain freedom involved a low blow: basically, let's kill all the first born male Egyptians to gain leverage over the Pharaoh. If none of the other plagues did the job, let's use one of the most effective tactics in the playbook. As any parent will attest, there is nothing more painful that the loss of a child. And it worked, as Pharaoh allowed the Jews to leave. Maybe I missed something while I was walking in and out of the dining room with the Matzo Ball soup for the kids, but the message communicated was: the ends justify the means, and if violence serves to free you then that is just fine and dandy.

Call me simple minded (and I am ready for the tomatoes to be thrown my way): but isn't the definition of terrorism the infliction of violence on the innocent to attain your goals? Pharaoh was guilty of enslaving the Jews. But what did the first born Egyptian males do that merited their slaughter?

Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that if instead of the text reading enslaved Jews and God killing innocent first born Egyptian sons it read black slaves relying on a higher force to kill innocent first born sons of Southern plantation owners as the way to liberate themselves: would we be celebrating this as a holiday of freedom or condemning it as a barbarity? Or if we were to change the cast of characters and replace it with any other people fighting for their freedom. Aren't we continually wishing they rely on nonviolent methods? Aren't we holding up Martin Luther King and Gandhi as role models? Or wishing this or that group had a Nelson Mandela figure instead of suicide bombers? Aren't we praising dialogue and democracy, cultural cooperation and other peaceful methods instead of violence?

The question is not just: Why is this night different than any other nights? It should be: Why aren't we more bothered with what we are reading?

As I said, a holiday that encourages questions. I did, finally, find the Pepto-Bismol. But my stomach was still upset the next morning.