Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16, Parashat Hashavua for Shabbat January 20, 2024

Darkness is a metaphor. We often say we are living through dark times: with seemingly unbridgeable social and political divisions, profound conflicts of values, the war between Israel and Hamas. Hate abounds and antisemitism raises its ugly head. In this week’s Torah portion God brings the final three plagues on Pharaoh and Egypt: locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn. Each plague is worse than one before so why is darkness the next to the worst? Our Torah says, “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days.” (Exodus 10:22).
Commenting on this verse, Rashi (11th C. Germany) wrote, “there was darkness of gloom when no man saw another during those three days, and there was moreover another period of three days’ darkness twice as thick as this when no man rose from his place: (emphasis mine). God brings a tangible darkness to Egypt that blinds people to be able to see others, that renders them helpless and passive and unable to find their way in the world. Yet, we have a way out of this confusion.
Our Torah reads, “but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:23) Darkness and light are not just physical phenomena but a reflection of our internal spiritual and psychological state.
Pessimism is a dark outlook on the future, while optimism is a bright one. When we cannot see other people, their needs and desires, we are in a state of darkness. When we can have compassion for others, we bring light into the world.
Each day we have the opportunity to live in darkness or in light. Choose to live in light and bring light into our world.