Did the Egyptians deserve to be punished by the plagues?

If Pharaoh was the one who had the idea to enslave B’nai Yisrael, then why did the plagues affect all of the Egyptians? Did the Egyptians deserve a collective punishment?

Shadal (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzatto) explains that the entire Egyptian nation was responsible for the enslavement of B’nai Yisrael.

When reading Shmot 1:9 we read: “He (Pharaoh) said to his people: ‘Behold, the people of B’nai Yisrael are becoming too numerous and strong for us.’” If the Egyptians weren’t evil, they would have tried to calm Pharaoh down and convince him not to hurt B’nai Yisrael. Instead, they kept quiet and in sentence 11 they went along with Pharaoh’s plan: “They (the Egyptians) appointed taskmasters over them (B’nai Yisrael) to afflict them with their burdens.”

It doesn’t say that Pharaoh himself appointed taskmasters rather it says that “they”, meaning the Egyptians appointed taskmasters.

In contrast, when the midwives (who according to Josephus and Abravanel were Egyptian women) were asked to kill the baby boys, they did not comply. The midwives let the baby boys live yet Pharaoh didn’t punish them. If the whole nation wouldn’t have gone along with Pharaoh’s plan to afflict B’nai Yisrael, what could he have done to them?

Shadal concludes that since the Egyptians did not protest the harsh decrees placed on B’nai Yisrael, they were punished along with Pharaoh and that is why the plagues affected the entire Egyptian population.

When we see that something wrong is happening, we must follow in the footsteps of the midwives and stand up for justice. According to Rabbi Saadya Gaon, the reward that God gave the midwives was that He protected them. May we too merit God’s protection.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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