Bava Kama 58 - 64
“Once ‘the destroyer’ is given permission to destroy, it does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.”
This statement by Rav Yosef is derived from a verse in Chumash that warns all of the Jewish People to remain indoors on the night of the final plague in Egypt — the smiting of the firstborn. The verse states, “and no person shall go out from the entrance of his house until morning”.
This concept of indiscriminate and collective punishment is one that is reserved for unique and special occasions. It is a concept that very much seems to be beyond our understanding. Besides it applying on the night of the Exodus, I have heard from my teachers that it also applied during the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and also during the Holocaust.
Rav Yosef adds a caveat to this idea. He states that the destruction begins with the righteous, as the verse states, “and I shall cut off from you the righteous (i.e. first) and the wicked” (Yechezkel 21:8). Rav Yosef, when he taught this, cried, since it appears from the punishment of the righteous before the wicked shows that the righteousness is “worthless” (Rashi). Abayei comforted and explained that the punishment of the righteous first is actually a favor from Above, so that they should not see the terrible punishment that will follow (Rashi). Abayei cites his source as the verse, “The righteous man has perished, but no one takes it to heart, and men of kindness are taken away, with no one understanding that because of the evil the righteous man has been taken away.” (Yeshayahu 57:1) The word for “because” in the verse is “mipnei”, which also means “before” or “prior to”.
- Bava Kama 60a