What Would You Do If You Were Invisible?

In Plato's Republic, Socrates recounts the legend of the Ring of Gyges. It was a magic ring that granted its wearer the power to become invisible. Through the story of the ring, Socrates asks whether an ordinary person would behave morally knowing that his actions would not be observed by others, and therefore he would have no cause to fear the consequences of his actions?

Socrates’ answer is: If a person truly understood his own self-worth, he would not take advantage of his invisibility to do bad. There would be nothing he could gain that would be worth the loss of his integrity.

Our ancestors, enslaved by Pharaoh, had no Ring of Gyges. Yet on the night of their exodus from the Land of Egypt, they told us much about their moral stature. The fear of a slave revolt has haunted dictators throughout the ages, from times of antiquity to the suburbs of Tripoli, Libya, in 2011.

History records many bloody uprisings by slaves against their masters. Slaves took swift and brutal revenge on their former masters. Horrific massacres were typical. The drive for revenge was almost universal.

Do we observe this pattern of cruelty in the story of the Exodus? Were Egyptian babies taken out of their mothers’ embrace and thrown into the Nile, as were the babies of the slaves who had been murdered just a short while before? Did the Hebrew beat up his taskmaster who just several days ago had tortured him mercilessly? Nothing of the sort.

On the night of the Exodus not one Egyptian was harmed, not one house destroyed by a Jew.

The liberated slaves had the courage to defy the natural call for revenge. What did the Jews do at the hour of freedom? Instead of swarming the streets of Egypt, wreaking havoc, they were sitting in their homes, eating the paschal lamb and reciting the Hallel. They celebrated the first Seder with their families! This is unique in the long saga of human revolutions.

Would we have blamed the Jews if they had engaged in a few acts of vandalism, even retribution, on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, exacting rough justice from the taskmasters who had thrown their babies into the Nile? The Jews, at the command of G‑d, did not. “None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning”, the Torah tells us.

In the havoc that befell Egypt that night, the Jews could easily have gotten away with it. Especially during the plague of darkness, it was as if each of them was wearing the ring of Gyges. Instead of being enslaved by the base instincts of license and revenge, they channeled their energies to creativity, G‑d, family and love.

They looked inwards, celebrating the first Passover Seder achieving the greatest of all victories: they became a free, moral nation.