April 21, 2024
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By the ninth plague of darkness, Hashem said to Moshe (10:21-22), “Stretch forth your hand towards the heavens, and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt, and the darkness will be tangible … and there was a darkness of gloom [i.e., a thick darkness].” Indeed, the darkness was so intense that the midrash (Shemot Rabbah 14:1) says that this plague of darkness had actual substance—it was thick and tangible in a literal sense! Rav Avdimi (ibid 14:3) is quoted saying that the darkness that was present “doubled and redoubled,” and as Rashi (10:21) explains, “[the darkness] was doubled, redoubled, and thick, until it had substance.” The darkness was so palpable that the midrash further says that during the second three-day period of darkness, “One who was sitting could not stand, and one who was standing could not sit,” as it is stated (10:23), “Nor could anyone arise from his place…”

Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of this kind of darkness that promotes the midrash (ibid 14:2) to ask, “From where was that darkness [derived from]?” The midrash quotes Rav Yehuda who answers that it came “from the darkness on High [i.e., from heaven], as it is stated (Tehillim 18:12), ‘He [Hashem] made darkness His concealment, around Him His shelter.’”

At first glance, Rav Yehuda seems to indicate that darkness exists in Heaven. However, Rav Mordechai HaKohen of Tzefat (Siftei Kohen al HaTorah, Bo) asks: But it is stated (Daniel 2:22) that “Light dwells with Him”! [This seemingly indicates that in Heaven, Hashem’s presence is filled with only light! Hence the apparent contradiction.]

Rav Shalom Noach Borozevsky (Netivot Shalom, Bo) explains that there is a form of darkness that is essentially a great light, but that this light is so powerful that it can darken the vision of those who look at it. An example of this phenomenon is someone who stares at the sun which causes him to then be unable to see anything but only darkness. So too someone [spiritually] unfit to be able to see and experience the tremendous light from Heaven, for him, this light is darkness, causing him to not see anything. Like the Gemara (Avoda Zara, 3) says that in the future to come, Hashem will take the sun out of its sheath, and allow it to blaze forth; the wicked will be judged by it [the intensity of the sunlight], while the righteous will be healed by it. Which means, says Rav Berezovsky, that Hashem will bring out an extremely great light, and for the righteous this will indeed be light and thus heal them, whereas for the wicked it will be darkness. Hence, Rav Yehuda does not mean to say that there is darkness in heaven, but rather that there is such a great and awesome light, that for those unfit, it is darkness.

Says Rav Berezovsky, when Hashem told Moshe, “Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt…,” this means that Moshe should draw down upon the Egyptians this great light which would cause them to experience darkness, since for the wicked who are unfit, this light causes them to experience an incomparable darkness, so much so that one who was sitting could not stand, and one who was standing could not sit. This is in contrast to the Bnei Yisrael for whom it states (v. 23), “but for all the Bnei Yisrael, there was light in their dwellings”—for them, they benefited from this light. Hence, the darkness that was for the Egyptians was light for Bnei Yisrael. Rav Shimshon Pincus (Tiferet Shimshon, Bo) similarly says that this pasuk teaches that the darkness the Egyptians experienced and the light the Bnei Yisrael experienced were not two separate entities—darkness and also light, but rather, it was one entity: this same light that the Bnei Yisrael benefitted from, was what blinded the eyes of the Egyptians.

In reference to this great light, the midrash (ibid 14:3) comments, that it is regarding this light that it is stated (Tehillim 119:105), “Your word is a lamp (ner) for my feet and a light (ohr) for my path.” The midrash applies the aforementioned pasuk in Tehillim which mentions ner and ohr to explain the phenomenon of this great light that the Bnei Yisrael experienced. Yet, the term ner is a reference to mitzvot, and the term ohr is a reference to Torah study, as it is stated (Mishlei 6:23), “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah is light.” Hence, from this midrash we can seemingly see a connection between the light which Bnei Yisrael experienced in Egypt, and Torah.

Says Rav Pincus, we learn from here a lesson that applies to all generations, and likewise in our generation where they [the enemies of Am Yisrael] rise against us to annihilate us: When Bnei Yisrael engages in Torah study and mitzvot, the enemies of Am Yisrael experience a deep sense of darkness, like the depth of darkness the Egyptians experienced. Our Torah study, mitzvot and prayers silence all of our enemies; it renders them incapable of inflicting any harm against us. Indeed, the light radiated through engaging in Torah blinds our foes—causing them to experience darkness—while it brings light into our lives.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and of WSSW.

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