During the plague of darkness in Egypt, the Israelites “enjoyed light in all their dwellings,” while the Egyptians found themselves in thick blackness “that could be touched.”
It may be difficult to imagine such a darkness. The Etz Hayim commentary suggests that this must not have been the type of darkness that could be defined as the “relative absence of light.” The Torah stated that the Egyptians “could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he/she was.”
This mysterious darkness was immobilizing and debilitating in ways that seem physical but could be, primarily, spiritual or psychological. With such an interpretation, we could say that darkness has descended on a community when people are unable to recognize each other as fellow human beings, perhaps due to conflict, accumulated animosity or even hatred.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought of hatred and love in terms of darkness and light. In one of his well –known sermons at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957, he asserted: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
King’s notion of casting light on a place where there is only darkness relates to the Torah’s tale of the Egyptian refusal to grant the Israelites freedom. As Pharaoh was immobilized and unable to see the good that would come from liberating the slaves in his own heart and for his people, so were the people also caught in a place where they could not recognize the humanity of the Israelites among them. That was the darkness that engulfed them, and there was no guarantee that even granting the Israelites their freedom would dispel that darkness.
We know well that the plague of such darkness persists in many corners of the earth and in the human heart. The words of Psalm 112, as translated by Pamela Greenberg, offer us insight into how goodness and godliness can lift us to a higher place: “For the goodhearted, light shines even in the dark: you are full of grace, compassion and justice.” The “you” can be God or the spark of God in each of us. May we continue to nurture that light within us.