In this week’s portion we confront the final plagues as well as texts that speak to us regarding
the observance of Passover. There are ethical and theological issues in this portion, especially the challenge of how to understand Pharaoh’s “hardened” heart. Was it God who did this, and thus was in control of all that transpired?
But I want to look briefly at another example of how meaningful the texts can be. In Exodus 10:21-29 we read of the ninth plague, that of hoshech, darkness. This is a plague that brings about a darkness, so dark that “it can be touched” (10.21). It is a plague that overwhelms and envelops all. How meaningful is it as we are about to enter year three of Covid?
In the Etz Hayim commentary there is the speculation that: “Perhaps the plague was not a physical darkness, a sandstorm or solar eclipse…perhaps it was a spiritual darkness, a deep depression”. (p.377) How relevant is this look at the plague for we are living in a time when mental health issues, many as a result of the plague of Covid, has darkened so many lives. We see, in many aspects of society a darkness of the spirit and soul. Certainly our politics reflect this. Certainly the decline in civility reflect this. One need only be reminded of the events of last January 6 and the insurrection in D.C. to see this dark side of where we are and what we may be becoming.
But at the same time, there is, as part of this spiritual darkness, signs of something new. More and more people, of all ages, have become increasingly focused on finding deeper meaning in their own lives. There is a spiritual awakening for many, often outside of traditional institutions, that, for many, is slowly opening new paths of meaning and life purpose for many.
This is a challenge for all of us. Elders have the advantage, I hope, to be able to call on a decades of life experience to try and place the now in a context of history. Let me again suggest that our generation can play a valuable role in what we are experiencing. There is a sense of despair in our world. We can be voices of resilience and hope. We can remind others (and our selves) that we have choices in how we live and how we can emerge from these moments of darkness. The spiritual message that we are part of something greater than our own sense of self and entitlement is a message that needs to be lived, modeled and spread. So many of us have lived through crises, personal and social, and we have, in many ways, emerged stronger; reinforced by the beliefs in family, friends and shared goals.
For many these are time of darkness. We are living through plagues of despair, polarization, fear and often hate. Yet, we know that we can overcome these plagues by how and by what we choose to do with our lives. It is never too late to have your voices heard. That time is now, for as the Mamas and The Papas reminded us so many years ago, it always darkest “just before the dawn”.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.