In many ways this week’s portion, Bo, presents us with several challenges. Pharaoh’s heart is “hardened” many times. God takes credit for this, and we contemplate why would God do such a thing? Is it just to prove God’s power? If so, why at the expense of the Israelites?
We encounter the final plagues as well. There is great drama here in the text including the powerful plague of darkness. It is this that got me thinking this week as to the images of darkness and light, the blessing that follows the Barchu that speaks of the creation of light and darkness and the imagery that we often associate with darkness. The text (10:21-23) describes this plague of darkness as thick, “a darkness that can be touched”. The commentator Sforno describes this type of darkness as one of a “deeper nature”. People were unable to see each other to which another commentator noted that “when a person does not see others or want to see them, there is darkness in the world”. A fitting commentary on our political world today.
But this idea of darkness also reminded me of that personal darkness that Sforno alludes to. This is a darkness of the spirit, the feeling that is deeply personal, the feeling of being cut off from everything and everyone. This really is a plague, and we are seeing the rise in this plague in a variety of manifestations. Interestingly, this plague of the soul’s darkness that Sforno refers to can have a response from tradition.
In their “Sparks Beneath The Surface”, Rabbis Olitzky and Kushner cite texts that speak to the aspect of creation and a primordial light. “The ordinary light that we see by was created on day four, but the light of day one was the light of ultimate awareness.” It is this light, deep within each of us, that is this Divine aspect, the light that is all too often hidden. This is the light of our own liberation, our own freedom from the slavery of the plague of darkness of the soul. It is always there, from the very moment of our own creation. It is always available to us to light our path to our own fulfillment….if we but choose to see it.
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.