Parashat Bo - The Plague of Darkness

In this week's Torah portion, Bo, we learn about the last three of the plagues on Egypt: locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn.   The plagues get increasingly severe as the go on, with the most severe, of course, being the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn.  It has always puzzled me that darkness is the 9th plague.  Somehow when I imagine darkness, it doesn't seem nearly as bad as some of the others, such as boils, lice, or even all of the water turning to blood.  In the parsha, we read about the plague of darkness in the 2nd aliyah:

וַיֵּ֥ט משֶׁ֛ה אֶת־יָד֖וֹ עַל־הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וַיְהִ֧י חֽשֶׁךְ־אֲפֵלָ֛ה בְּכָל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם שְׁל֥שֶׁת יָמִֽים
לֹֽא־רָא֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־אָחִ֗יו וְלֹא־קָ֛מוּ אִ֥ישׁ מִתַּחְתָּ֖יו שְׁל֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וּלְכָל־בְּנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָ֥יָה א֖וֹר בְּמֽוֹשְׁבֹתָֽם
So Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days. They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days, but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings. (Exodus 10:22-23)

If we read Rashi on this verse, it becomes clear why this plague was worse than I might have imagined:
חשך של אופל שלא ראו איש את אחיו אותן שלשת ימים. ועוד שלשת ימים אחרים חשך מוכפל על זה, שלא קמו איש מתחתיו. יושב אין יכול לעמוד, ועומד אין יכול לישב 

Thick darkness in which they did not see each other for those three days, and another three days of darkness twice as dark as this, so that no one rose from his place. If he was sitting, he was unable to stand, and if he was standing, he was unable to sit.
Clearly, this was not just visual darkness, it actually had a weight to it.  It was physically paralyzing.  When I think about darkness, it reminds me of depression.  People who suffer from depression often describe their worst days as "very dark times," and moods can also be referred to as "dark."  While we all know how painful physical ailments can be, perhaps one of the messages of this plague being #9 is how painful emotional ailments can be as well.

How can we all bring ourselves out of our difficult emotional times, when we are plagued by darkness?  I believe the message we can bring out of Rashi is that we need to reach out to one another.  Although the Torah doesn't say so explicitly, Rashi explains that first the people could not see one another, and only after three days of that, the darkness became paralyzing.  Similarly, when we are plagued by dark emotional conditions, we often feel completely isolated.  We feel very alone, and may not even see that we have support networks around us, like when the Egyptians could not physically see one another, even though they were right there in the same room.  When we succumb to those feelings of isolation and do not reach out in our darkness, we risk becoming totally paralyzed.

The message I take from this is clear- we all have a spark of G-d within us, and that spark is the light that connects us all together.  When we are in darkness, we cannot see this divine light around us- we literally feel as if we are all alone and do not have any one to reach out to.  But we have been put on this earth to help and support on another.  When we remember to reach out, even in dark times, we will then be able to lift one another from our dark places, and again see the light we all carry within.

Judaism places a strong value on community.  We are alone, we risk falling into dark places.  When we come together as one people and one community, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.