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Seeing in the Dark

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

The lights could soon be going out all over Britain. The National Grid has warned that demand for electricity could reach 95 per cent of available supplies if the UK is hit by a prolonged cold spell as was the case last year. The last time the UK experienced a massive black out was 40 years ago.

The crisis started in October 1973 when Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israel. The war in the Middle East quadrupled oil prices. Arab countries reduced supplies to the West. With the price of coal rising too and stocks dwindling, Britain’s miners went on strike. These unexpected circumstances led to Britons having to get used to living under candlelight as power cuts became a feature of everyday life.

How do you fair in the dark?

What’s your reaction to a sudden black out?

Most of us are afraid of the dark and finding ourselves in the shadows. We are scared of what may happen and the things that wait for us in the dark.

The ninth plague to hit the Egyptians was the plague of Darkness.

This was not the usual darkness but rather “There was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. One did not see his own brother.” (10:22-23)”

The Egyptians couldn’t see anything for three days and then there was an even stronger darkness – a thick darkness which didn’t enable the Egyptian’s to move for a further three days.

The commentators are baffled as to why if the Egyptians were unable to see anything is there an emphasis on not seeing “one’s own brother”?

Nothing we know or can imagine approximates the darkness that overcame Egypt. It was miasmic; there was substance and body to it, not merely the absence of light. So different in character was this darkness that the Midrash Rabah (14:2) labors to understand its provenance. From where did such darkness come? The Midrash offers a source: the darkness came from on high, from the Heavens themselves.

But what could this possibly mean? What darkness is there above, where there is only light?

The Torah relates that, “Hashem said to Moshe: Stretch forth your hand over the Heavens, and there will be darkness upon the land of Egypt.” Shemot (10:21)

Moshe was told to stretch his hand over, above the Heavens. We would have expected him to be instructed to lift his hand towards Heaven. Moshe, however, was not meant to point with his hand in the direction of a higher place. He was told to reach above the Heavens, take hold of some lofty and elevated spiritual level, and bring it down to Egypt. There, explains the Toldot Yaakov Yosef, this wonderful light would turn to painful darkness for the Egyptians.

Consider a thoroughly evil person, somehow finding himself in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), moving about among the righteous, who all sit there resplendent in their crowns of glory, basking in the radiance of the Shechinah. The righteous there experience this as indescribable pleasure; he suffers immeasurably. Completely unaccustomed to spirituality, he experiences this Gan Eden as unbearable discomfort.

This, then, is the essence of the plague of darkness. Moshe took some of the light from above. It plunged Egypt into darkness like no other.

The Jews experienced the very opposite. Unlike the Egyptians, they were not overcome by palpable darkness. On the contrary, the illumination that Moshe brought down from on high bathed them in light. “For all the Bnei Yisrael there was light in their dwellings.”

We speak of Hashem as “yotzer/ fashioning light and borei/ creating darkness” (Yeshayahu 45:7).

“Creation,” we are told is on a higher plane than “fashioning.” Why, then, is darkness linked to Beriah?

The Kabbalists explain that the “darkness” linked to Beriah in this verse is actually light – light that is even brighter than what is connected with yetzirah. Some light is so powerful, that staring at it leaves one blinded, incapable of seeing anything else. People who stare at the sun for even a brief moment are temporarily left unable to focus properly. One who is not equipped to handle the light loses his vision because of it. Our Sages (Avoda Zara 3) tell us that in the future, Hashem will take the sun out of its sheath. It will then inflict punishment upon the evil, while simultaneously curing the righteous. The righteous, accustomed to spiritual illumination, will make good use of it. They will find it curative and redemptive. The evil, unaccustomed to such illumination in their lives, will be overwhelmed and pained by it.

So it was to the Egyptians. Moshe did not bring darkness from above, but light. Unable to bear what their souls were unaccustomed to processing, the Egyptians were paralyzed by the overdose of light, and they were unable to see each other or rise up from their places for three days. The dwellings of Bnei Yisrael, however, were suffused with light.

The story is told many years ago that a man emigrated from a small town in Russia to the United States. His business enterprises were blessed with success and he became very wealthy. A few years later, his brother arrived, found his way to the successful brother’s house, and presented himself to the doorman as the brother of his master. The doorman directed him to the waiting area and afterwards came back with a message that his master had no brother. He sent back a number of signs hoping that his brother would recognize him. Again the doorman came back: “Sorry, my master says he has no brother and does not know you.” Disappointed and hurt, he told the doorman to tell his master, “I advise him to make a will immediately, because he does not have much time left to live.”

Petrified, the brother rushed to the door and asked in alarm, “How can you make such a statement? My doctor proclaimed me in excellent health!” The immigrant brother looked his brother in the eyes and said, “The city in which we grew up as brothers was very small and poor. The townspeople were unable to afford a full-time physician. I studied first-aid and administered their medical needs. From my experience I learned that when a patient can no longer ‘recognize’ his own brother, his situation is extremely serious and he has little time left to live.”

 

When Jews dwell together, when they band together as a group to bring down Hashem’s light, they are able to jointly receive it. Even in a blackout – when we sit in unity there is only light!

This is why next Shabbat we look forward to hosting hundreds of young Jews from around the world at the TAL International Shabbaton. The energy formed by uniting Jews from around the world on Shabbat holds the secret key to enlighten the world.

 

e miracles was, “so that you may know that I am Hashem.” The Torah is saying that unless one appreciates the consequence of the miracle, that G-d made a “mockery” of Egypt, one is not able to know that G-d is the Omnipotent Power.

Furthermore this instant in Torah is unique in that we are commanded to pass on this message of a mockery, not only to our children, but also to our grandchildren.

The question is why?

There is a Negative Commandment in the Torah that a judge is not permitted to be intimidated by anyone when he is adjudicating a case. Regardless of the status of individuals involved (wealthy or powerful), a judge must maintain his objectivity and remain unbiased. If a judge is influenced, intimidated, or affected to the point that he feels restrained to any degree vis-à-vis his function, then he is in violation of this negative commandment.

The Gemara (Berachot) tells us that greater is a person who benefits from the toil of his hands than one who fears Hashem. Is it possible to say that a menial labourer is greater than a man who fears G-d? It is obvious that the “labourer who benefits from the toil of his hands” is a person who fears G-d. The Gemara is saying that a man who fears G-d and is supported by his own toil is greater than a person who fears G-d and is sustained by others.

The reason for this is that the one who relies on others is bound to be swayed and affected by them. He makes decisions consciously or unconsciously based on how he believes others will react or perceive him and not the way Hashem sees him. Thus the individual who benefits from the toil of his own hands and fears G-d, will be directed by the Will of Hashem alone and be impervious to the opinions of others.

People are impressed and awed by status and power. The Torah tells us that Egypt, the most advanced and powerful civilization in the world was devastated by G-d because it subjugated the Jewish people. Pharaoh, one of the most significant monarchs in existence, was significantly diminished because he did not release the Jewish people from bondage. Although one would think that Pharaoh was a person who was invincible, it was proven that he was a mere mortal. The reason it is important to communicate to our children and grandchildren the “mockery” Hashem made of Pharaoh and his people, is to give them the understanding that although a person is in an exalted and elevated position, he is only there because it is Willed by Hashem. Only when one sees the unimaginable (such as the downfall of Egypt), can he appreciate what the basis is for every person’s predicament. If one understands and is able to internalize this, he will know the meaning of “I am Hashem.” If one believes for a moment that achievement and success is attributed to oneself, then he will be impressed with the one who achieves that success, thus, diminishing Hashem’s role in existence.

There is an argument between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether the obligation of Tefilah (prayer) is a Torah obligation or only a Rabbinical dictate. The Rambam is of the opinion that Tefilah is a Torah obligation; as the Talmud explains, Tefilah is the “service of the heart.” One would think that Tefilah is simply the acknowledgement of Hashem – that He is great, powerful, etc. That He sustains the living, resurrects the dead, supports the fallen, and heals the sick etc. However, Rambam says that if one only acknowledges Hashem for what He is and does not make subsequent requests of Him; one does not fulfil the Torah obligation of Tefilah.

Why is that so?

The answer is that if in fact Hashem is the all-powerful, awesome, and omnipotent Being, then how is it possible that one does not beseech him for his needs? When one beseeches Hashem for his needs it is a confirmation of all the attributes he has been citing in his prayer. If however, one acknowledges Hashem as being everything and does not make requests from Him, then it is an indication that he truly does not believe that Hashem is what he had acknowledged Him to be. The value of his statement is purely “lip service.”

R Bachya explains that the word Hitalalti (mockery) should be understood with the root Ila – first cause. G-d is the first cause of everything and it was through these miracles that even Pharaoh would come to the realisation that there is only one Almighty.

This is one of the most fundamental teachings in Judaism, to truly believe in (and internalising this belief in) the Almighty. Hence the importance of passing down this ‘mockery’ directly even to the grandchildren.

Coming back to our initial question with the Jewish father.

Even if the father is willing to examine the problem intellectually, on the emotional level he refuses to consider it at all. He doesn’t want to enter the world of reality; because reality might force him not only to agree with you and enrol his child in the day school, but it might push him to bring Jewish observance into his home as well, changing his entire life.

Pharaoh believed he was in charge, yet by the end of the ordeal all had been tipped upside down. Those that were above were now down below, and the trodden nation of Israel had emerged as servants of a Living Almighty G-d.

Let us bring G-d into our daily life, He is the Ila – First cause, He is the Almighty and He is our Father. Don’t be content in just acknowledging Him, He has the power to move mountains!

Let us pray and request of Him and show our true belief!

Shabbat Shalom

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