In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes the final three plagues: locusts, darkness, and the annihilation of Egyptian firstborns. The second of these three, though it may seem simple, teaches an interesting lesson. The Torah writes, “Vayomer Hashem El Moshe, Neteih Yadcha El HaShamayim Vihi Choshech Al Eretz Miztrayim, VeYamesh Choshech,” “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand towards the heavens, and there will be darkness upon the land of Egypt, and the darkness will become darker’” (10:21). Rashi cites a Midrashic explanation of this Pasuk that this darkness would be “darker” than the ordinary darkness of the night. He seems to be referring to the fact that although on a regular night the moon and stars would give light, these sources of light would be hidden during Makkat Choshech. It would be absolute darkness – very detrimental, but physical only.
The Chidushei HaRim adds a different dimension to this Choshech. As a result of the extreme darkness, the Torah records, “Lo Ra’u Ish Et Achiv VeLo Kamu Ish MiTachtav Sheloshet Yamim,” “No [Egyptian] man could see his brother nor could anyone rise from his place for a three day period” (10:23). The Chidushei HaRim suggests that this Pasuk refers to another sort of Choshech, even worse than the harsh physical darkness: social darkness. He writes, “The worst type of darkness is [a figurative one,] in which a person refuses to see his friend in his pain and to give him help.” One who demonstrates this behavior, according to the Torah, cannot rise himself from his own place; he becomes frozen and immobilized as a punishment for his social “darkness.”
One might think that none of Bnei Yisrael suffered from this darkness, since the Torah states two Pesukim later (10:23), “Ulchol Bnei Yisrael Hayah Or BeMoshevotam,” “And for all of Bnei Yisrael there was light in their dwellings.” However, the Midrash states this was only the case for those members of Bnei Yisrael who remained faithful to their heritage. Based on the Mechilta, Rashi notes in next week’s Parsha (commenting on 13:18) that only twenty percent of Bnei Yisrael ultimately left Mitzrayim. Four out of every five Jews died in Makkat Choshech’s three days of “Afeilah,” utter blackness. Because they were already assimilated, Makkat Choshech treated these Jews like Egyptians, inflicting physical and social Choshech on them. Apparently, Bnei Yisrael were not immune to the forces of this Choshech that struck Mitzrayim.
One lesson of Makkat Choshech, then, is clear. All of us can be bothered by physical darkness. However, a much more important thing to avoid is social darkness, holding back our hands from helping fellow Jews. It is a fundamental principle of both Torah SheBiChtav and Torah SheBeAl Peh that Jews must aid each other. If we do not show such concern, we lose the ability even to help ourselves. May be Zocheh to see a society in which Jews do not create Choshech, but rather societal light, always lending a hand to fellow Jews in need.