The Torah portion Bo (Exodus 10 f) speaks to the final plagues that confront Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In Exodus 10, after Locusts invade the land, Pharaoh’s heart is “hardened” again. That sets the stage for the plague of darkness. “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon the land of Egypt for three days” (10:22). While Israelites “enjoyed light”, the Egyptians “could not see one another” (10:23).
There is much discussion in tradition about the issue of darkness. The Plaut commentary mentions that the genesis of the darkness is left to the imagination of the reader. (p.450) In a way, Plaut may be saying to us that the plague of darkness speaks to each generation, and each person, in their own way. There can be no understating that a modern plague of darkness is present.
The plague comes in variety of ways. There is the darkness of isolation and depression that inflicts so many elders. Indeed, there is a Hebrew expression marah sh’chorah that translates into dark mood or feeling, which gives us the reality of depression. This feeling can be so overpowering that it may seem to those who are living it that they cannot see any light in their lives.
There are some who also see, in the current societal situation, a darkness of civility and reason. Our generation has lived through such dark periods. We moved through Viet-Nam, the revolutions in civil rights, feminism and GLBTQ search for equality. Many of us remember the darkness of what so many people spoke and acted. Progress, meaning and “light” seemed to be in retreat. There have been periods of time in our lives when that “light” of reason seemed to be in retreat. Yet, somehow, we moved through these periods to grow and survive. History is a great teacher and if we do not learn from it, as we have been taught, we are doomed to repeat it.
This plague of darkness speaks to each of us in a different way. Our generation has lived through so much and so, we are again faced with a choice as to how to activate our own souls to do a part to combat this plague. We know what division, hate and fear can do to a society. The choice is ours. We submit or we move to the light.
Rabbi Richard F Address