Killing Infants: G-d's Justice

Moshe Ben-Chaim


Reader: I have always had a problem with the 10th Plague. How can anyone reconcile this punishment with "Tsedek, Tsedek, Tirdof", "strict justice shall you pursue"? After all, among the thousands upon thousands of firstborns who died, there must have been countless babies, infants, children and many others, totally innocent people who committed no sin.
So, where is the ultimate Justice in this collective death sentence?


Mesora: In such a delicate area, one must be careful not to allow his tender mercies for children to cloud an objective analysis. Be mindful as well, we are not discussing torturing children, but death alone.

Your question is predicated on an assumption that G-d's owes a long lifespan to each member of mankind. Of course, G-d cannot "owe", as there is nothing above His laws obligating Him, in anything. The concept of G-d "owing" is impossible. His will determines who will live, and for how long. As He decides that man may be short or tall, He also possesses full rights over who shall live, and for what duration. In His plan, only He knows how ultimate justice is served. How can we know His thoughts?

This answer alone suffices, but I wish to mention a few other thoughts.

In terms of man "deserving" justice, this applies to only those above age thirteen, when they have reached the state where they act with their minds, and are considered responsible for their actions, and are only now "meritorious" or "guilty". In this case, G-d cannot harm one who is guiltless, "Ish bicheto yamus", "a man in his own sin shall be killed". This means that man is punished for what he does, but only once he is an "ish", a man. That is, above thirteen years of age. (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 6:1) Below thirteen, Maimonides teaches that such a child is considered as man's property, and may be taken from his parent(s) as a punishment. This child has not reached an age where he is responsible, so he is not meritorious, nor is he guilty. His death is not a punishment to him, but to his parents.

But be clear, Egypt was not the first time G-d annihilated a people. During the Flood and Sodom, G-d also wiped out entire civilizations. In order to arrive at a true understanding of G-d's justice in this area, all cases must be studied. This is the reason G-d recorded them all in His Torah.

Many factors may contribute to G-d's decision of wiping out a civilization, society or culture, including infants. For example, a society may be so corrupt, that no possible remedy exists, and all who enter it, or are raised therein, will become irrevocably corrupt. Their removal prevents other people from becoming corrupt as they are.

If there is no hope for the infants of Sodom, of Noah's generation, and of Egypt, there continued existence is futile for themselves, and destructive for others. For this reason, G-d commands in His Torah that we obliterate all members of the Amalek nation.

"Unquestionable mercy for children". This is the core of the problem. Man feels what he senses as unquestionable, is unquestionable. But this cannot be. G-d alone possesses absolute truth, and what He says, must be truth, in contrast to what we feel with our limited intelligence. Our's is to learn of G-d's knowledge, as He created all we see, and all that is just. He also created "justice"! It is foolish for man to complain that G-d must follow us! He created the entire universe. Let is be patient, and search out His great wisdom, instead of committing ourselves to ignorance, and abandoned, intelligent growth.

G-d created our ability to think - the tools with which to understand, far greater than what we initially possess when confronted with emotionally, wrenching issues. King Solomon said it so well, "...for what is man that he comes after the King, that all is already completed?" (Ecclesiastes, 2:12) "Do not be excited on your mouth, and (on) your heart do not hurry to bring forth a matter before G-d, because G-d is in heaven, and you are on Earth, therefore let your words be few." (Proverbs, 5:1)

Earnest study of the Torah's cases of G-d's annihilation will bring forth an even greater appreciation for His system of justice.