Deep Into Darkness Peering, See the Light of the Intermediary Disappearing

This weeks installment is dedicated l’iluy nishmas Gitel Leah a”h  bas Menachem Mendel Hy”dMrs. Lidia Schwartz nee’ Zunschein whose yuhrzeit is this week.

Did the plague of darkness cross the boundaries of Goshen?
Why is the plague of darkness the only one in which the Torah reveals that the opposite was happening to the Israelites?

Moshe lifted his hand towards the sky and there was obscuring darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another nor could anyone rise from beneath [the palpable, immobilizing darkness] for [another] three days. However, there was light for all of the Bnei Yisrael in their dwellings.

—  Shemos 10:22,23

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the HaShem shines upon you. For, behold, darkness covers the earth and dark thick clouds [covers] the peoples; but upon you HaShem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light and kings [will march] by the radiance of your shine.

— Yeshaya 60:1-3

No longer will the sun provide you with daylight and radiance, nor will the moon illuminate [the night for you]; but HaShem will be an everlasting light for you, and your Elokim will be your brilliance.

— Yeshaya Ibid:19

Even the darkness is not too dark for You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness is as the light.

—  Tehillim 139:12

HaShem will plague Egypt, plaguing and healing …

— Yeshaya 19:22

“Plaguing” the Egyptians and “healing” the Bnei Yisrael-the Children of Israel.

— Zohar commenting on the above pasuk

As in the days of your exodus from land of Egypt I will display miraculous things.

—  Michah 7:15

Rabi Yehudah combined and split up the makkos-plagues of Egypt; into simanim– mnemonics: Dtzac”h, Adas”h, B’acha”v

—  Haggadah shel Pesach

The Midrash says that wherever a Jew would sit down things would become illuminated for him. Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains that the Midrash deduces this from the difference in the Torahs description of the Bnei Yisrael being unaffected by makkas choshech– the plague of darkness; compared to the makkas barad-plague and hail.  When describing the plague of hail the Torah writes: “It was only in the Goshen where Bnei Yisrael were, that there was no barad” (Shemos 9:26). If makkas choshech had been identical to makkas barad what we should have had was a pasuk reading something along the lines of “No darkness dimmed the land of Goshen” or “there was abundant light throughout the boundaries of the Bnei Yisrael.” Instead the pasuk emphasizes the dwellings of the Bnei Yisrael rather than a particular area on the map of Egypt.

In fact, darkness lay on the land uniformly and respected no boundaries.  Darkness fell into pharaoh’s palace and land of Goshen equally.  The dichotomy between the Egyptian and the Israelite experience during this plague was not geographically rooted.  Instead, it derived from the difference between the Israelite an Egyptian soul. As the Jewish soul cleaves to HaShem, the dynamic that allowed the Bnei Yisrael to be untouched by this plague was that the Ohr Ein Sof Baruch Hu-the Light of the Endless One – Blessed is He [alternatively the Endless Light– Blessed is He]; was with them and, perhaps, diffusing through them.

While we’re all very familiar with the simanim of the Haggadah: Dtzac”h, Adas”h, B’acha”v , dividing the 10 plagues of Egypt into two sets of three followed by a final set of four, Rav Leibeleh Eiger introduces another way of categorizing the plagues.  He asserts that only during the first nine of the plagues, of which darkness is the final one, did the Egyptians have the opportunity of exercising their free will to liberate the Bnei Yisrael and dismiss them from the land.  The final plague, makkas bechoros-the smiting of the firstborn; forced their hands.  At that point they had they no longer had any choice in the matter.  Viewed in this way the makkos are divided into 9+1.  Makkas chosech was the final plague while makkas bechoros was something qualitatively different altogether.  As such, makkas chosech was the beginning of geulah-redemption; of the Bnei Yisrael from the Egyptian exile.  As darkness engulfed the land the salvation began.

In Jewish eschatology one of the hallmarks of the ultimate Geulah at the end-of-days, is that the presence of G-d will be palpable and manifest and that all powerless idols and false ideologies will be exposed for the obscuring mirages they are. Their smoke —their pollution — will blow away, scattered by the fresh winds of truth.  The Geulah will be a kind of cosmic reboot where everything is reset and recalibrated to the Manufacturer’s factory settings.  In order to get a glimpse of the ultimate Geulah it is instructive to study the sources describing how these “factory settings” where first fiddled with and misaligned.

At the very beginning of his Laws of Idolatry, the Rambam describes mankind’s first small misstep that caused the ancient worshippers of G-d to slide down the slippery slope towards full blown idolatry.  Per the Rambam their error was based on the fact that, to a great extent, Hashgachah Pratis– Particular Divine Providence; is managed through an elaborate hierarchy of intermediaries.

The leadership of the generation of Enosh observed that G-d had created stars and revolving constellations, situated them in lofty positions and allocated to them dominion over, and control of, mankind. They reasoned that, although the celestial bodies possessed no independent power of their own, as “senior officials” in G-d’s Kingdom they, too, were owed respect, praise and homage. They decided that this is the will of G-d just as an earthly king wants honor to be accorded to his high ranking ministers. These displays of honor enhance the dignity of the king.

With the passage of time false prophets arose urging people to create physical representations of these celestial bodies, constellations and other assorted forces of nature and to begin worshipping them with a wide array of bizarre and immoral practices.  Eventually the various intermediaries were deified as independent powers unto themselves and the very name of HaShem the Creator became lost to mankind.

This, teaches Rav Leibeleh, helps us gain an understanding of the ultimate Geulah as described by the navi-prophet; Yeshaya. The whole trouble with our temporal, broken world is the intermediaries intervening between HaShem and His creation, chief of which are the sun and the moon.  But in the repaired world-to-come there will be no room left to be delusional and imagine that any independent power exists other than HaShem. When the sun no longer provides daylight and radiance, and the moon ceases to illuminate, then “all the lights go out” and darkness and the palpable gloom of thick clouds will envelop all. But for Bnei Yisrael, cleaving to HaShem, the direct Source of the Light will be revealed.  For Bnei Yisrael, HaShem is both the root of their existence and their only hope for a good ending, both their light source and their light and the end of the tunnel.

During the aschalta d’geulas mitzrayim– the onset of the redemption from Egypt; the light that shone for each individual Jew during makkas chosech was a harbinger of the ultimate Geulah. In Egypt as in the end of days “upon you HaShem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you.” The ultimate eschatological snuffing out of the sun and the moon to reveal the True Source of Light in the end of days is a prime example of “As in the days of your exodus [i.e. during makkas choshech]  from land of Egypt will I display miraculous things.”

This answers another questions posed by Rav Leibeleh:  Our sages taught that all of the makkos– plagues; provided “plaguing of the Egyptians and healing for the Bnei Yisrael.”  However, as far as what is explicit in the Torah itself, the most that we find is that the deleterious and lethal effects of the makkos did not strike Goshen or the Jews. Chosech is the only one of the plagues where the Torah describes how the very antithesis of what was plaguing the Egyptians strengthened and “healed” the Bnei Yisrael.  While the Egyptians were obscured and paralyzed by the dense immobilizing darkness “there was light for all of the Bnei Yisrael in their dwellings.”

The singularity of the makkah of chosech is that, as the last of the makkos, the redemption had begun.  This was more than the mere “healing” effect accruing to the Bnei Yisrael from the other makkos. Instead, as a harbinger of the world-to-come, it was a revelation of the true nature of the Bnei Yisrael, true residents of that world only passing through this broken, temporal world, Bnei Yisrael are plugged into the very Source of Light; the Ohr Ein Sof Baruch Hu absent any intermediaries. By process of elimination, when the light of the sun and moon are extinguished and darkness envelops all, the light that shines must be HaShem.  It is not that darkness halts at the border of Goshen, it was that, in a state of redemption, the Ohr Ein Sof Baruch Hu shines through the Bnei Yisrael to shed light on the darkness.

~adapted from Toras Emes Bo D”H u’Lchol 1 and 2

4 comments on “Deep Into Darkness Peering, See the Light of the Intermediary Disappearing

  1. Perhaps they finally realized that the game was up. Maybe they could tolerate the first born’s, but they were worried “Kulanu Meisim”. I guess this is like “your money or your life”… if there is no life left, there will be no one to stop the exodus anyway.

  2. Sheryl, shkoyach for the kind words. I am always uplifted when learning these divrei Torah and it is gratifying to know that my English adaptations allow others to be inspired by the Izhbitzer school as well.

    Somehow, your question is very on point and I just “took it on faith” from the sefer (no link available but I can email you a PDF of the source sheet and you’ll see that this is precisely what Rav leibeleh says.) The Torah and classic meforshim gives us plenty of insight into how and when, even why, the Pharaoh lost his free-will during the makkos but this is the first sefer I’ve seen address the loss of the bechirah of rank-and-file Egyptians.

    My educated guess would be that the prophecy Moshe received regarding the slaying of the firstborn included the declaration: “After that he will dismiss you from this [place]… he will actually drive you away.” No more negotiating, just a statement of fact.

    To me the larger question is did the rank-and-file ever have free-will vis a vis liberating the benei yisrael? It seems to have been the pharaohs decision, and his alone, from beginning to end.

  3. Very enlightening! I did not know that the light was through the Jewish soul from HaShem…I thought the Bnei Yisrael could see through the darkness not that it was HaShems light was with them where they were. Very uplifting, such a beautiful concept.

    Also, the idea that the sun/moon will not be necessary when Mashiach comes, that all light will be from Hashem…fascinating! So powerful.

    Thank you Rabbi S for opening my eyes to these truths and exposing me to these amazing concepts!

    Good Shabbos

  4. I don’t understand why they were “forced” to let the Jews go after the final plague. Each Makah was tolerable to some extent. So why can’t they tolerate their first-born’s dying also?

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