Like a big fish in a small pond, Pharoh ruled from his throne on the Nile. As this watering place replenished itself (and there was no need to pray for rain) it invoked a climate of opinion that the world was a self sustained place. Of course Pharoh took complete credit for it, no-one negated this since there was no free choice. “Ani Asitani- I created myself” was what he told his kingdom. Holding up his mirror, he already had a hard heart.
The Egyptians were experts in metaphysics. By using necromantic techniques, like turning sticks into snakes and other methods of waving a wand, they created a society so steeped in idolatry – there was no other like it in the world. To this setting the Bnei Yisrael arrive and sink within three generations to the almost final level of Tum-ah. The mood of so mean hearted a place was thick with heresy. Nevertheless, the ball started rolling and sure enough, the Bnei Yisrael come to the realization that they must get off the ground of Egypt.
Parshat Bo, with the last of the plagues, focuses on the finite differences between the Egyptians and the Bnei Yisrael. The curtain that prevented Egypt from knowing G-d inevitably brought a great darkness to them which eventually led to the falling of their empire. – “And there was a great darkness in all of the land of Mitzrayim for three days. They saw not one another but the children of Israel had light…” As the children of Israel acted as free men and not bound in the shackles of their minds, they amassed more and more perception in their knowledge of G-d. They acquired the vessels that enabled them to hold the light. So, for one it was darkness and the other – light. This was no magic trick – two separate features, light and darkness materialized simultaneously. The Egyptians saw no-one because they banished the light, denying G-d.
Our Rabbis bring down a very important torah here- Heaven and Hell are also in the same place and the same time. It is up to you to decide where you are and what to do when you get there.
The light that was internalized eventually increased in the backdrop of darkness, connecting to the idea of the mitzvah of Parshat Bo- Kiddush HaChodesh, when the Beit Din declares a new moon via witnesses that come to testify in the Temple. That confirmation determines the sanctity of the Jewish Time table and its holidays (to this day!). This is likened to the beginning of the revelation process, starting with a sliver of light and continuing with more and more light every night. In the plague of darkness, the children of Israel held the light high. This light increased when they hastened out of Egypt and reached the climax when they reached the Red Sea, reaching the hour of complete faith. The light at that hour became so great – it was then that they became a light unto the nations: See Joshua 2:9 when Rachav says: “I know that the Lord has given you the land and your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of you. For we have heard how the Lord has dried up the waters of the Sea of Suf before you when you came out of mitzrayim… for the Lord your G-d, He is G-d in heaven above, and on the earth beneath.”
Shabbat Shalom, Leah Goldsmith