If you’ve ever read the series Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, you know that the book doesn’t exactly end the way everyone wants it to. Spoiler alert: The last book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, ends with Gale killing the majority of the Capitol children, for the sake of freedom. To sum up the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, the book is set in a dystopian world where “districts” are the poor and underserved slaves of Panema, and the Capitol is the place where all the rich and wealthy people live. The Capitol’s president, Snow, forces all the districts to compete in an annual Hunger Games. That is where two contestants from each district are forced into an arena to fight to the death. This is supposedly to remind the districts that the Capitol is still in power.
In the last book of the trilogy, the main characters are rebelling and fighting for freedom against the Capitol. When President Snow knows he is in danger, he forms a wall of children to protect himself from the rebels.Gale, one of the main characters, decides on his own to bomb all the children of the Capitol, forcing Snow to give up and end the Hunger Games once and for all. Not only that, but he ends up accidentally killing Prim, the main character’s sister, who was just trying to help the children. But he only considers her collateral damage. This is very similar to my Torah portion when it comes to killing innocent people for the sake of freedom. Both ask the moral question, “When is violence okay?”
My Torah portion is about Passover, specifically the darker parts of the Jewish holiday that eventually led to freedom. As the last of the ten plagues, Moses calls upon Adonai to slaughter all the firstborn in Egypt. For over 430 years, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule. They were beaten and killed. Not only that, but generations of Israelites were born into slavery too. The Israelites asked God for help and God delivered the ten plagues, one at a time. The plagues got increasingly worse, but Pharaoh would not release the Israelites. Finally, God instructed the Angel of Death to slaughter all the firstborn sons in Egypt, sparing the Israelites’ firstborns. This last resort forces Pharaoh to release the Israelites, after his own first born son dies. Here we see a path to freedom that includes violence.
Sometimes violence seems like the only solution, considering Pharaoh wouldn’t listen after the first nine plagues. However, you have to consider that the firstborn children of Egypt had nothing to do with the enslaving of the Israelites and were merely taught that it was a good thing.
The reason they were killed was also why the Capitol children were killed, to make a statement in hopes of freedom or redemption from the real villain. In the Torah, it worked. Pharaoh let the Israelites go and they fled Egypt. But in the Hunger Games, it only causes complications and loses the trust of the other districts. This helps us see both outcomes of using violence for freedom. So I want to ask you, is violence ever morally acceptable?
A well known historical comparison is the difference between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his peaceful protesting against white supremacy and racial injustice. You’ve probably been taught a great deal about him in school, you’ve heard his speeches, studied his backstory, and learned how he used to deal with racial injustice through peaceful protest and civil disobedience. Malcolm X is a different, more complicated story.
Malcolm X grew up having experienced racial terrorism against him and his father. He was taught that he had the right to stand up for himself and fight back if people tried to oppress him or his community. Because of his background, he fought fire with fire and was determined to earn freedom no matter the cost. As a result, people today tend to favor MLK’s peaceful approach. We teach about him more in schools, have a nationally celebrated holiday for him, and numerous books are written about him. But, MLK would have had a different approach to Pharaoh in Egypt. It seems Malcolm X’s approach is more akin to God’s in my Torah portion than MLK.
In case you didn’t catch all that or zoned out at some point, I’ll summarize it for you: My Torah portion, a section of our Passover story, includes the killing of innocent Egyptian children for the freedom and redemption of the Israelites. We’ve seen similar stories throughout time, from the Hunger Games to MLK and Malcolm X, and Jewish history in general. Humans often resort to violence to achieve goals, I think because it’s in humans’ nature to think we’re better than those who are different than us. Instead of coming together, people try to conquer and kill in hopes of making themselves more powerful, as we see with the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
However, it’s also in human nature to evolve. We can learn to overcome our inclination towards violence and domination. The world has worked together to make so many scientific advancements, whether it’s vaccines, space exploration, or creating new technology to improve the lives of people all over the world. I believe we have the ability to unite and one day we’ll finally learn to come together and view each other b’tzelem elohim – created in the image of God. If we are able to achieve that, we can solve anything the world throws at us.