This week's Torah portion recounts the beginning of the end of the Egyptians. The first seven of the ten plagues are wrought on the Egyptians: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, Pestilence, Boils, and hail.

I am often asked about G‑d's treatment of the Egyptians: why hit them so hard? If G‑d's purpose is to redeem His people from Egyptian slavery, why not simply take them out! G‑d certainly could have liberated the Israelites "Gandhi style"... why all the violence? Why is the Torah, G‑d's blueprint for "healthy living," so violent?

First we must dispel a common misconception:

The prophet Isaiah writes that G‑d's ways are not the ways of flesh and blood; He works on a completely different plane. When a human is hurt by another, physically or emotionally, the instinctive reaction is a desire to react, to lash out in response. At times we restrain ourselves, and at times we do not, but we are not in control of our innate instinct of self-protection — and its immediate partner, the desire to respond to a threat to our wellbeing.

The act of a mere mortal, however, doesn't pose any "threat" to G‑d. Acts perpetrated "against" G‑d cannot penetrate or hurt Him. Thus there is no instinctive reaction, no natural desire to punish.1

True, our good deeds gratify G‑d, and our sins distress Him. But that is only because G‑d freely chose to be gladdened or upset by certain behaviors. An action or deed is relevant in G‑d's eyes only because He allows it to be relevant, but ultimately, as it relates to G‑d's essence, it is an act of a mortal, and cannot delight or offend Him.

The same is true with the system of reward and punishment, checks and balances, which G‑d instituted in His creation. G‑d decided that a mitzvah is a way to connect with Him, and thus, by fulfilling a good deed one opens a spout releasing the flow of Divine energy to oneself. When one does otherwise, one closes that spout, as it were. It's not that antagonizing G‑d elicits a harsh response; rather, when you do a positive action, you generate a spiritual (and often physical) reaction. When you do good, good is the reaction. When you do bad, the reaction is bad. It's a matter of cause and effect.

When the Egyptians hurt G‑d's people, they caused a reaction that was, and is, embedded in the nature of creation. Good deeds are responded to with goodness, and bad deeds are responded to as well. It is the person himself who triggers the response, activating, as it were, the mechanism that G‑d Himself created.