At Passover seders, I’ve often heard people wonder about the
ninth plague – the plague of darkness.
What’s so bad about darkness? Couldn’t
the Egyptians just light a candle and defeat the plague?
The Torah tells us that the plague was no ordinary
darkness. It was “a darkness that can be
touched” and “a thick darkness” (Exodus 10:21-22). Some of our sages take that literally,
positing a physicality to the darkness that made it more than just an absence
of light. Other commentators, noting
that the darkness is only in the dwellings of the Egyptians, but the Israelite
homes enjoyed light (Exodus 10:23), attribute a magic-like property to the
darkness, able to afflict some places but not others.
To me, the most meaningful interpretations look at the
darkness metaphorically. The Ketav Sofer
(Hungary, 1800s) taught, “When a person does not see others, or does not want
to see them, there is darkness in the world.”
The Even Ha-Ezel (Lithuania, early 20th century), said, “The
greatest darkness is when a person does not see their fellow human being.” And Rabbi Richard Levy (America, 21st century), wrote, “The darkness is a dark hatred of nations, peoples,
lifestyles, sexual practices, or disabilities different from our own.”
I fear that this type of darkness still plagues our
world. The news is filled with instances
where people do not see others as human beings.
Their vision is darkened by fear or hatred. And, horrifically, we know that fear and
hatred of the other can lead to senseless violence. If you look at another person – a Christian
in Sri Lanka, a Muslim in New Zealand, a Jew in Pittsburgh – and do not see the
light of humanity reflected in them, if you determine, in your blind hatred,
that they are not worthy of living, then you are afflicted by the same moral
darkness that plagued Pharaoh.
The antidote to darkness is light. The remedy to hatred is understanding. The only way out of this plague is to see the
humanity shining in each and every person.
As our holiday of Pesach comes to a close at sunset on Friday, let us
pledge to look through the darkness and find the light in all we encounter.