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Shabbat Parashat Bo 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Good Darkness Chases Away False Light

Harav Yosef Carmel

We find several explanations in Chazal for the unique contribution (other than a show of Hashem’s strength and punishment to Egypt) of the plague of darkness.

The Midrash Aggada (Bo 10) says that there were rich and wicked Jews who cooperated with the Egyptian oppression of their brothers, and Hashem decided to kill them along with the Egyptians. Had Hashem killed them at a normal time, the Egyptians would have said that the plagues affected the Jews the way they affected the Egyptians. Therefore, during the plague of darkness was the opportune time for the demise of these Jews, so that the matter could go unnoticed by the Egyptians.

The same source cites another possible benefit of this plague. The Israelites were instructed to borrow as many riches from the Egyptians as they could, but the Egyptians were likely to deny possessing as many gold and silver jewels and utensils as they did. During the darkness, which did not affect the Jews, they looked for hiding places of these objects in the Egyptians’ houses, so that when they later denied having them, the Jews said that they saw A and B in X and Y places. The Jews pointed out that they could have taken them, but instead the Egyptians were being given an opportunity to lend them, which they indeed ended up doing to a very broad degree. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, as “these and those are the words of the living G-d.” Indeed Rashi cites both.

There is a third explanation. The darkness was a midda k’neged midda (particularly fitting) punishment. The P’sikta (11) tells a story that apparently occurred with variations several times. An Egyptian would grab a Jew and make him stand still (at the threat of execution) with candles burning down on his head, while the Egyptian was eating.

We will try to light up the darkness with the help of a prophecy by Yeshaya about Egypt (see Yeshaya 19:1, 18). Hashem promised to smite the idols of Egypt and said that the city of Cheres (meaning, sun) would turn into heres (destruction). That city was a center of worship to the sun. Yirmiya (43:13) also speaks about the destruction of the Egyptians’ monuments in their city of Beit Shemesh (the House of the Sun), which the Greeks called Heliopolis. The center of worship known to the Egyptians as Anu, which in Tanach is called On (see Bereishit 41:50), was central to the Egyptians. The priests based in this city set the Egyptian calendar, which was solar.

Based on this background, we can suggest that the plague of darkness was intended to show the Egyptians that even the sun, with all its power, is under the dominion of Hashem. Hashem may decide to allow its light to spread, and He may decide that its light will have no effect. One of the goals of the plagues was to teach the Egyptians and, through them, the world at large the basics of belief in one G-d. The Plague of Darkness had a central role in reaching that goal.

Let us pray that all who live in the world will recognize Hashem’s Kingdom and realize that all the powers of nature serve Him.

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