January 7, 2022
I begin this week’s column with a seemingly obvious statement, “I am not blind.” This claim is not intended to be in a figurative or spiritual sense, rather, it is very much in the literal, “I have the visual ability to see” meaning of the statement.
Why on earth am I leading with this claim you might rightfully ask. Because twice in my life I have had experiences of intentionally “being in the dark” and experiencing a brief and temporary blindness-like condition, which were both illogically and irrationally simultaneously scary and enlightening.
So where were these experiences, and why did I pursue them? Well, both were in Israel, and I experienced them because they were part of two different educational trips. The first was a visit with a group of 8th-grade students to the Israel Children’s Museum, Dialogue in the Dark Exhibit, and the second was an international fellowship experience where the group was taken to dinner at Na Laga’at BlackOut Restaurant.
As the museum explains, “We truly and honestly believe that the exhibit can cause a true change in the way people perceive others and those who are different.” Whereas the restaurant describes their guests’ experience as, “When you can’t see anything, you notice so much more.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we are told of the final three plagues that befell the Egyptians, of which the second (9th overall plague) is that of “darkness”.
Unlike all the other plagues to this point, which were miserable, disruptive, even painful, and life-changing, the plague of darkness was disabling. Without the ability to see all of Egypt came to a complete standstill. In fact, after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh was resigned that the Hebrews should leave and told Moses that he could take the Hebrews to go pray to Gd. Knowing the people would not come back he even permitted the children who were too young to pray, to also go because he expected them all to be gone forever (Ex. 10-24-29).
So, what happened to Pharaoh during the plague of darkness? Well, he became “enlightened,” as do so many of the guests of the Dialogue in the Dark Exhibit, that if we can’t see the differences in our skin color, in our height and stature, in the way we dress, in our physical appearances, we are all essentially the same. Pharaoh realized that what simply differentiated the Hebrews from the Egyptians was to whom they prayed. Therefore, Pharaoh realized he needed to let them go. However, Moses demanded that the Hebrews’ possessions be allowed to be taken with them, which is when Pharaoh rescinds his offer because of the potential consequences to his authority, his leadership, and his reputation.
Pharaoh came out of the darkness having learned a lesson that many in our society never learn, that we are more similar than we are different. However, what Pharaoh did not learn was the lesson of “Na Laga’at”, that when you can’t see anything you need to work on seeing so much more. Pharoah didn’t carry the lesson out of the darkness and into the light, or as Plato so eloquently said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when [adults] are afraid of the light.”
When Gd created the earth, Gd did not eliminate the darkness, rather Gd separated the darkness from the light. The darkness was left for us so we could learn to appreciate what it has to offer and know that the light will follow.
This is not how any of us imagined we would be starting 2022. Having felt like we had come through the pandemic only a few short months ago, this new year was going to firmly set Covid in our rearview mirrors and provide us a renewed energy to embrace the new year and what it could offer. Unfortunately, there is still more to this struggle than we expected. Yet, as difficult and as draining as it has been, if we close our eyes and embrace the darkness so as to reflect on what we have and the blessings that have been bestowed on us, what will we do when we reopen our eyes and see the light? Will we continue to simply go about our routines as they have become, or will we truly embrace the opportunity and make a difference in the world?
As we close out the first week of the new year, I encourage you to reach out to someone today and let them know they’re on your mind. Because when each of us spreads a little light during this ongoing darkness, we help make our community…