I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the lighter mornings. I hate getting up in the dark. But however dark it is in Pinner, Egypt was far worse! Today’s sedra describes the events leading up to the Jewish people leaving Egypt – the offering of the korban pesach, the paschal lamb and the last three plagues. Darkness in varying degrees is a feature of all three. In the eighth plague, we learn that locusts “covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened” (x: 15). In the final tenth plague, we learn that the lamb for the Passover offering must be killed at dusk (xii: 6), eaten at night (xii: 8) in preparation for midnight when “the all the first born in the land of Egypt shall die” (xi: 4).
And the ninth plague is all about darkness but what kind of darkness are we talking about? The absence of light as night follows day? Pre-creation darkness as described in Bereshith “darkness was upon the face of the deep” (i:2)? Or is it as Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) known as the Vilna Gaon explains? He says that during the time of the plagues, God turned His own laws of nature upsidedown retaining light in the homes of the Israelites but in the Egyptian households creating a supernatural allencompassing darkness. Whatever kind of darkness, the Egyptians would have been petrified. The sun god Ra was revered more than any other god and the Pharaohs connected themselves with Ra in their desire to be seen as his earthly embodiment.
“Man did not see his brother and man did not rise from his place (literally ‘from under his’ m’terhutuv) for three days” (x; 22). Yitzchak Meir Alter also known as The Chidushei HaRim (1799-1866) remarks that “Man did not see his brother” is a description of the worst kind of darkness in life, when a person does not see the suffering of another human being. In the next phrase “man did not rise from his place”, the Hebrew word terhut means ‘under“. Looking at the connotations for terhut elsewhere, it can be inferred that after the inability to recognise suffering in others comes the stage of oppressing oneself – to be under subjugation. In this scenario we do not extend a hand to help others and have also lost the capacity to help ourselves. Let’s hope that we gain the insight to see ourselves, to help ourselves and to understand and help others.