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ב"ה

Transformative Darkness

Friday, 7 January, 2022 - 6:31 am

If the ancient Egyptians would have discovered electricity would they have avoided the suffering of the ninth plague of darkness?

 This week’s parsha Bo describes a week of darkness in Egypt as the second-to-final plague that befell Egypt and soon led to the exodus of the Jewish people. The other plagues all brought about destruction to Egypt and its people. This plague – immediately preceding the harshest of all, the killing of the firstborns – seems meek in comparison. All it did was keep the Egyptians in a state of confusion and inaccessibility. We don’t know of any lasting damage. So, what was its purpose?

During this time, the Jewish people were able to see. In fact, it was during this plague that they scouted out the riches of Egypt. When they left Egypt, the Egyptians urged them to leave quickly, showering them with riches, so long as they would hastily depart.

We see a clear benefit to the Jewish people through this plague. But, the question remains: Did it cause any damage to Egyptian life?

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According to the Midrash, “There were six days of darkness... during the first three, "a man saw not his fellow"; during the last three days, he who sat could not stand up, he who stood could not sit down, and he who was lying down could not raise himself upright.”

So maybe electric lighting would not quite have solved the issue.  But, a deeper examination of this plague might make the debate a moot point.

The Chassidic master Rabbi Yitzchok Meir of Gur explained the plague as far more than a physical punishment. It was a spiritual sentence of far-reaching impact:

There is no greater darkness than one in which "a man saw not his fellow" -- in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of his fellow man. When we operate in that type of darkness, we become stymied in our personal development as well -- "neither rose any from his place."

During this plague, the Egyptians received a taste of their own medicine. They cared not for their fellow; they acted obliviously to the abuse and suffering of other humans. And, they suffered – stuck to their spots physically and spiritually – as a result.

To suffer a loss of one’s cattle or vegetation, for example, is a setback. But, so long as the person still maintains the ability to grow, they can move onward and upward.  When we become stagnant and indifferent, that is one of the greatest punishments possible.

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Seventy-one years ago, this week, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn assumed the leadership of a small Chassidic group of Jews. In his inaugural address the Rebbe boldly declared that this world is Hashem’s beautiful Garden. And, our job is to make it – and its inhabitants – shine.

While others were licking their wounds from the centuries of suffering and the recent Holocaust, the Rebbe was offering a light.  Instead of focusing on the darkness, the Rebbe chose to see the inherent goodness latent in every person. The Rebbe refused to succumb to the plague of darkness, despair and indifference.

The results are plainly obvious. As the Chassidic saying emphasizes, “A little lights dispels a lot of darkness.”

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G-d gifted the Jews the ability to see during this plague. And, that serves as our marching orders.

We may have discovered – through electricity and night-vision goggles – the ability to see each other during nighttime. But the greater question is, can we see each other – in a spiritual and emotional sense – even during the daytime?

In honor of the Rebbe, let’s remember our task and privilege to live in a “light” mentality.

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