D’var Torah: January 13, 2016

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we can make a good situation better, and sometimes we can make a bad situation worse.

Take a look at this week’s Torah portion, and its description of the 9th plague upon Egypt.  We read this week in Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) that God would send “darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt… but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.”  (Exodus 10:21, 23)

Of interest is the description, “darkness that can be felt.”  What could that mean?  Was it simply thick?  Was it misty and foggy?  Was it so dark that it felt terrifying?  Or…  Rashi, our 11th century Torah commentator taught that the darkness became thicker and thicker, doubling and doubling.   I derive from Rashi’s teaching that the Egyptians, in their fear and confusion, stumbled about and scratched and clawed at the darkness which engulfed them, and as they did, they made it worse.  It is like when we scratch at a pimple or a rash, and we enflame the entire area.  The Egyptians took the plague of darkness, and thickened it with their failed efforts to feel their way about. 

Yet, the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings…

When we are amid difficulty, we can exacerbate the situation by recklessly responding or futilely flailing at the circumstances.  We can make it worse – and often we do – by unreasoned responses and flawed efforts.   The Egyptians’ response to this plague teaches us this lesson, and calls on us to work carefully and prudently in our undertakings, especially when we are facing challenges. 

And, conversely, the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.  Note: the Torah does not simply state that the Israelites “had” light, but that they “enjoyed” light in their homes.  They made their good situation better.  To merely have light was an existential qualifier; to enjoy it offers a qualitative improvement.   The Israelites took their condition, and made blessings of joy and purpose from that light.

As we begin 2016 as a congregational community amid continuing transition, we surely will have moments of challenge as well as moments of blessing.  That is a certainty.  And, no less a certainty is that we will have opportunities to make good situations better, and make bad situations worse.   Let’s do the former!   There is light to be enjoyed!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Douglas Kohn