Parashat Bo describes the final three plagues against Paroh and the Mitzrim, one of them being Makat Choshech, the plague of darkness. At first glance, it would seem that Makat Choshech is just like the rest of the other nine Makot. However, Rashi sees something different in this plague, and asks, “Lamah Heivi Aleihem Choshech?” “Why did [Hashem] bring upon them darkness?” (Shemot 10:22 s.v. “VaYehi Choshech Afeilah VeGomeir Sheloshet Yamim VeGomeir”). Rashi offers two answers. First, since Hashem was going to kill part of Bnei Yisrael for their wickedness, and He wanted to make sure the Mitzrim would not see this, lest they would say that Hashem kills even the Jews. Another answer is that it was to give Bnei Yisrael the opportunity to discover the Mitzrim’s wealth.
Rashi’s question here is very difficult to understand. Normally, when Rashi provides a commentary, he doesn’t record his question, assuming that the reader already knows it. Even by the other plagues, Rashi never asks, “Lamah Heivi Aleihem Dam,” “Lamah Heivi Aleihem Tzfardeia,” etc. So why does Rashi ask this question specifically about Makat Choshech?
Earlier in Shemot, when Moshe is first talking with Hashem, Hashem tells Moshe to tell Paroh that if he does not send out Bnei Yisrael, then Hashem will kill his firstborn as a Midah KeNeged Midah (measure for measure): Bnei Yisrael are Hashem’s firstborn and if Paroh won’t let Hashem’s firstborn go, then He will kill Egypt’s. Paroh responds by saying (5:2), “Mi Hashem Asher Eshma BeKolo LeShalach Et Yisrael Lo Yadati Et Hashem VeGam Et Yisrael Lo Ashalei’ach,” “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice to send out Israel? I have not known Hashem, nor will I send out Israel!” Thus, when Paroh originally refuses to send out Bnei Yisrael, he already doomed himself and his nation to be the victims of Makat Bechorot. However, now that Makat Bechorot was destined to happen, what was the purpose of bringing the other Makot? Why was Paroh punished with the other nine Makot?
The aforementioned Pasuk records that Paroh committed two sins. One, he denied Hashem, and two, he sinned against Bnei Yisrael. After Makat Barad, Paroh says (9:27), “Chatati HaPa’am Hashem HaTzadik VaAni VeAmi HaResha’im,” “I have sinned; Hashem is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.” Here we see that Paroh does Teshuvah for his first sin against Hashem by acknowledging that his people are wicked and Hashem is the true king. After the next Makkah of Arbeh, Paroh states (10:16-17), “Chatati LaHashem Elokeichem VeLachem VeAtah Sa Na Chatati Ach HaPa’am VeHatiru LaHashem Elokeichem VeYaseir MeiAlai Rak Et HaMavet HaZeh,” “I have sinned to Hashem, your God, and to you. And now, please forgive my sin just this time, and entreat Hashem, your God, that He remove from me only this death.” Here, Paroh realizes that there is another sin to do Teshuvah for, and if he wouldn’t repent, only more Makot would take place.
Now, after Paroh performs a complete Teshuvah, his punishments should have stopped. However, as mentioned earlier, since Paroh didn’t let Bnei Yisrael go out in the first place, he would automatically receive the tenth plague, the killing of the firstborns. With this information, we can finally understand Rashi’s question. Since Paroh should not have been smitten with any other Makkah except for the killing of the firstborns, why did Hashem bring the seemingly extra one of Choshech – “Lamah Heivi Aleihem Choshech?” Since Paroh did not deserve it, Rashi says that it must be a Makah on Bnei Yisrael and not on the Mitzrim.
The Makot give us a very important message. When a person does Teshuvah for his sins, Hashem does forgive him. And if Hashem is willing to forgive even people like Paroh and Nochrim, then Hashem surely will be willing to forgive us when we do Teshuvah.