What Really Happened to the Firstborn?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I love the Seder, but one thing that irks me every year is the Tenth Plague - the Death of the Firstborn. I understand the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites and I have no sympathy for Pharaoh. But why did their children die? Couldn't that have been avoided?
The slaying of the firstborn is central to the entire Pesach festival. Until we understand its inner meaning, we haven't grasped the full depth of the story of the exodus.
What actually killed the Egyptian firstborn? What was their cause of death? The Torah says that it was the Mashchis - a destructive force - that killed them. But what was this destructive force? And why did it kill the firstborns?
For a healthy person, there can be no greater joy than the birth of a child. Giving birth means bringing another soul into the world, continuing your family line and perpetuating life to the next generation.
This is true of every child born. But the firstborn has an additional power. The first child is the one who made you into a parent. This is a transformative moment. When you become a parent, you become a giver of life.
But the Egyptians hated life. They worshipped death. They gave offerings to their dead, worshiped a god of the underworld, and spent a huge amount of time and money on elaborate funeral rituals. This is seen in the pyramids, giant tombs built in honour of their death cult.
Those who don't value life don't value their children. Children are new life, and a death cult doesn't want life. They hate birth, and they hate their firstborn more than anyone else.
This is what killed the Egyptian firstborns: their parents' hidden hatred towards them. On that night before the exodus, when G-d revealed His awesome love for His children, the children of Israel, the lack of love of the Egyptians for their children came to the surface.
Have you ever seen a child that is starving for love? They are dead inside. One night in Egypt, the inside came out, and those poor children had nothing to nourish them. They didn't die from lack of oxygen or food, they died from lack of love. That is the Mashchis, the destructive force that ravaged the Egyptian houses that night.
On that very same night, the first Pesach, the Israelites gathered in their homes with their families. While the Egyptians were being confronted with their own ugly hatred for life, the Israelites were celebrating life with the children that they loved. It was on that night that the Jewish people were born, a family nation who loves life, and will do anything for their children.
And so on the same night every year, on Pesach night, we relive that moment. We give our children all of our attention, we lovingly listen to them ask the Ma Nishtana, we do all we can to engage them in the Seder. We embrace each child, both the wise and the wicked. We tell them the story of G-d's boundless love for us, His children.
At the Seder, we spill wine in sympathy for those Egyptian children, and all the children in the world who are starving for love. We show our own children that they mean everything to us, that we love them just for being. And we pray for the day that every child be loved and every life be treasured, as is fitting for a child of G-d.