D’var Torah for Friday, January 7, 2022

This week we will be reading from parashat Bo. In it we find the final three plagues of locusts, darkness and death of the first born. In the past I have written about how darkness was interpreted by the rabbis to be more than a physical darkness, but a spiritual darkness as well. As is noted in the WRJ Women’s Torah commentary, “presumably the text’s ancient audience would have understood such darkness as a reflection of the impotence of Re, the Egyptians’ sun god. Thus this sign implicitly proves that the God of Israel is stronger than the gods of the Egyptians.”1


If ever you have been in a cave when they’ve turned off the lights, you have a sense of what total darkness not only seems like, but also what it feels like. It is completely disorienting, overwhelming and scary. Here the Egyptians were faced with a land in shadow so much so that the midrash teaches that even their lights did not illuminate their way. 


However, unlike some of the previous plagues, the Israelites did not suffer the darkness. As the text teaches, “… but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.”2 According to one medieval commentator, Rashbam, this meant that even those Israelites who were enslaved in Egyptian homes could see, even when their Egyptian masters could not.


The interplay between darkness and light then represents not only a physical reality, but also a stark spiritual choice. Our text is teaching us that one can choose to live in darkness just as one can also choose to live in the light. 


We are currently living during the season when we have the least amount of sunlight. In addition, Covid has once again reared its ugly head and forced us to make restrictive decisions to strive to keep ourselves and our communities as safe as possible. Nonetheless, we do this because we are choosing to live in the light. Like our ancient ancestors, we know that even in times of darkness, it is incumbent upon us to bring forth light. This light is represented by our hope for a better tomorrow as well as our commitment to represent holiness today.


Redemption came for the Israelites shortly after the plague of darkness. Even in the darkest of times, may we find the strength to know that our redemption is coming. It may be delayed, but it will come. And until that day, may our decisions and our actions be those that help to further the light.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff


1  Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn and Andrea L. Weiss, Ed., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, WRJ, New York, 2008, pg. 360.

2 Exodus 10:23