The portion “Bo” (Exodus 10 to [13:16]) relates to us the ninth and tenth plagues and the initial rehearsal for us of the Passover.There is great drama in this portion and not an insignificant amount of dread and ethical challenges. Once again, however, the Torah speaks to us in our age. It is the plague of darkness that confronts us in Exodus 10. So dark was this that, as verse 23 states in chapter 10, “lo r’oo ish et achive”, one was unable to see one another/his brother.
Our tradition plays with the concept of darkness a lot. “Choshech” can be interpreted in so many different ways. The verse [10:23] should spark an awareness in each of us, however, for it asks what happens when we are unable to “see” anyone else? Twerski, in his “Living Each Week” reminds us that “If one sees only oneself and does not see one’s brother’s plight and empathize with him, then one does not rise oneself”. (p.128) How relevant this concept is so close to MLKing weekend when so many participated in a day of service and maybe sand songs of hope and justice at a Friday night service. And now, days later? Do we only “see” the injustice or inequality on prescribed times or when convenient?
There is another beautiful interpretation taken from the Midrash. In Exodus Rabbah 14.2 is a comment that links the plague of darkness to a foretaste of “Gehinnom”. As noted in the commentary “Etc Hayim” this foretaste of “Gehinnom” sees the plague of darkness as “the punishment that awaits those who cannot truly see their neighbors, who cannot feel the pain and recognize the dignity of their afflicted neighbors”. The “Gehinnom” is a type of netherworld, a type of what some would call Hell, it is the psychic and political punishment that afflicts those who cannot see the reality of injustice and inequality. It is a real darkness of the soul that prevents one from seeing each other and the reality of someone else’s circumstances. To ignore that, condemns us to darkness of our soul and the decay of the society in which we live.
Once again, the Torah in its way, speaks ancient truths to modern times.
Rabbi Richard F Address