2002Moses is struggling with Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Through God's help, Moses inflicts the ninth plague upon the Egyptian people. God helps Moses to perform this act, saying:
Bringing Light into Dark Places
"Hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness which could be felt." Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. They could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was; but all the Israelites enjoyedlight in their dwellings.
Your Torah Navigator
1. What does "a darkness which could be felt" mean?
2. Why did darkness fall upon the Egyptians and not the Israelites?
3. What advantages do we have when we can see but others cannot?
4. Do we have a responsibility to help others to "see?"
Exodus Rabba 14:3
All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings: It does not say in the land of Goshen [the area in which the Israelites lived in Egypt], but in their [the Egyptians'] dwellings. This is to show that wherever a Jew went, light went with him and illuminated what was in the barrels, boxes, and treasure-chests [of the Egyptians].
Your Exodus Rabba Navigator
1. It sounds like the Israelites actually brought light with them wherever they went. What does this Midrash infer about what the Israelites did with the light?
2. What possibilities were there for using the light to do good?
Exodus Rabba actually infers that the Israelites had the power to bring light to dark places or to be an "or l'goyim," a light to the nations. If we take seriously our charge to be an or l'goyim then we have the responsibility to bring light to dark places for positive change. In Exodus Rabba 14:3, we see that at times the Israelite people has not used this light for honorable ends. (Before they left Egypt, the Israelites "borrowed" gold and silver and other riches from the Egyptians). However, we can also use the light, that prophetic wisdom of what is right and good, to help create a better world. For example, bringing light to dark places could mean bringing food to the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, fighting against neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups, visiting the sick or elderly, becoming a mentor or Big Brother/ Big Sister. What a tremendous advantage it is to have light when others do not! May we use this light for good and not for evil.
Perhaps we can use this text before we go out to do an act of social justice. Go Tzedek Hillel!
Prepared by Rabbi Andrea Lerner, University of Wisconsin, Madison.