Moses & the Taskmaster

In shul this past shabbat I led a discussion. It was about the case in the beginning of the book of Exodus in which we meet Moses as an adult. He goes out among the people and witnesses an Egyptian taskmaster mercilessly beating a Hebrew slave. Moses looks around and then kills the taskmaster.

I raised the following issue. It is clear that incidents in the Torah, though they may appear to be solely one-time events, are meant to be understood in a more global eternal way. With that in mind, how does the Torah intend us to understand Moses' action? Does the Torah mean to say that murder, in certain circumstances is acceptable? If so, how would that impact our society and how would it impact the way countries conduct foreign and military policy?

Interestingly, the congregation didn't take my bait, and instead they focused on Moses and the Hebrew community - how they accepted him and how his actions were to be understood at the time. We didn't get into the issue of violence in general or whether violence is justified at any time if at all.

I do think that Judaism does not intend us to be pacifist. Turning the other cheek is not a Jewish value. Treating others with respect is Jewish and ensuring people's health, safety, and well being are valuable as well. The 6th commandment is "thou shalt not murder" it isn't thou shalt not kill (as translated in Christian bibles). Undoubtedly once there is room - even if limited - for violent action, then that violence has to be tempered and contextualized. In the ideal world - the Garden of Eden - all people would be good and peace-loving. But in the real world we have to struggle to reach that goal. That struggle should be waged carefully but it nonetheless should be waged.