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Darkness -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 01/26/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

January 19, 2023

4 Shevat 5783

Parashat Bo

Just yesterday, as I was discussing the 10 plagues with my JLC students, one of them asked about the ninth plague – “What so bad about darkness?” Relying on the commentary of Rashi (an 11th century rabbi), I explained that it was not ordinary darkness. It was so dark that one person could not see another. People were afraid to stand up and try to walk anywhere. And it lasted for three days. That seemed to answer the question. Then, today, I came across an article by a professor of criminology and a professor of criminal justice trying to explain the seemingly non-stop, increasing incidents of mass shootings in this country. Through January 24, there have been 40 mass shootings claiming over 70 lives (the complete list is here). The professors’ one-word answer as to the cause of this violence was “despair.” I immediately thought of the ninth plague – darkness. These (mostly) men live in a world of darkness – the absence of light. They have no hope. The mass shooting is both an act of suicide and an attempt to seize the spotlight for a brief moment before the end of their lives. As a society, we fail them twice. First, we fail to recognize their mental illness and offer treatment. So, they inevitably turn to extremist ideologies to make sense of the world around them. Secondly, we make it too easy for them to acquire weapons to kill others and, ultimately, themselves. The plague of darkness extends to us as well – they don’t see us and we don’t see them. In the Torah, the Egyptians suffered the plague of darkness because the Pharoah’s heart was hardened. He would not allow Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. It would take a 10th plague – the killing of the Egyptian firstborn children – to bring about freedom for the Children of Israel. In this country, our hearts have been hardened as well. Children are shot and killed in their schools. An elementary school student brings a gun to school and shoots a teacher. There have been more shootings than days in 2023. We barely even notice. It’s as if we were sitting in the dark. What kind of plague will it take for us to free ourselves? Shalom, RAF.

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