And the Eternal said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, nor any rose from his place for three days. But Israelites had light in places where they lived (Exodus 10:21-23).
At first glance, one might wonder how darkness is a plague. We are in darkness each day. The darkness is dispelled by turning on a light or by the break of dawn. However, the darkness that covered Egypt in our story was unique in that light could not dispel it and that it was “felt.” Additionally, in the darkness, no one was able to see another person, and what does it mean that no one “rose from his place” in the darkness?
When we speak about being “left in the dark”, this refers to a person who is ill-informed, careless, misinformed, naive, oblivious, unsuspecting, and alone. The casual reader of these verses could easily come to the conclusion that this refers to Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians of the day. They were unwilling to open their eyes to the light of truth of their inhumane treatment of those whom they enslaved for generations. Outside of its historical context, commentators relate this idea to us today by suggesting that we may suffer from a spiritual darkness that blinds us from seeing the misery of another person. As a result, we are incapable of “rising up” to assist in their care.
I was always interested to read that the Israelites themselves did not experience this darkness. Perhaps they missed an opportunity found there. There can be psychological benefit found in darkness, the darkness of depression and despair, that can reveal that what is hidden in the shadows is our own decay, illness, flaws, and impending death. In the light, we experience the world, all that we can behold, which distracts us from looking deeply into our own soul. Darkness need not be a place of loneliness where one is angered by how the world has been unjust; rather, it can be a place to be alone to wonder how I might realign myself and not be the victim of a random world, but rather a participant in what needs to be done. Perhaps that is the very light the Israelites experienced when the rest of Egypt was immersed in darkness.
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” — Anne Frank