We read about the last three of the ten plagues visited on Egypt in this Parsha. Why is the darkness the next-to-last plague? We are told that the plagues get worse as we go from one to ten. Wouldn’t you think that, after vermin and bloody water and locusts and boils (sh’chin), that a little darkness couldn’t have been so awful? Couldn’t they have just lit candles? Couldn’t the Egyptians simply sit tight until the plague ran its course? And this plague, unlike the others, doesn’t seem to cause any tangible harm.
I think we could think about this in a couple of ways. The first is that without light, everything around us becomes an obstacle. Anything, even vast riches, can trip up a person who walks in darkness. In other words, the very objects that might have helped us to improve our lives in the light become dangerous threats to us in the absence of illumination.
Another thought: light motivates us to action. Darkness breeds depression and passivity. Think about how happy we all are to add a minute or two of light to each of these days! When we are “in the light,” can raise our consciousness and move beyond our own immediate needs. During the Ninth Plague, the Egyptians were in a state of total spiritual darkness. They couldn’t even see their “brother,” meaning that they couldn’t care about anyone but themselves. And even candles couldn’t save them. The Israelites didn't suffer from the plague, because their light was provided for by Torah and mitzvot—As Proverbs tells us, "A mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light.” When we have the brightness of the Torah and its mitzvot, a whole new world comes to light. Obstacles are no longer obstacles; instead, they become God’s creations meant to assist us on our spiritual journey.
The ninth plague teaches us that it is in our hands to brighten our lives; we have all the tools we need to do so. And when we manage to live in light despite the darkness that surrounds us, we are able to see our brothers and sisters, to rise above our own immediate needs to become a community, a true people.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman