The power of darkness

The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, and the darkness will become darker.” So, Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days. [Exodus. 10-21-22]
Until now, G-d had sent plagues that everybody could see and feel. There’s the blood; there are the frogs; here come the lice.
Then came darkness and nobody could see a thing.
Moreover, virtually all of the plagues took place in one shot: There were lions and tigers attacking everybody, and then after Moses pleaded with G-d, they were gone. But the plague of darkness, as seen in the weekly Torah portion of Bo, came in two stages. First, Egypt turned pitch black: Nobody could see anything, even a person a nose-length away. In the second stage, the darkness paralyzed the Egyptians. Those caught standing could not sit and vice versa.
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. 10-23]
There was something else different with the plague of darkness. It did not distinguish between the evil Jew and his gentile counterpart. G-d took the one element that characterized the wicked and destroyed them. Without a speck of light, most did not know what had taken place during the six days of the plague. Where did G-d obtain all of this darkness? The Midrash says it was taken from hell.
As G-d prepared to take the Israelites out of Egypt, a nagging question remained: What would become of the vast majority of Jacob’s progeny who refused to leave the land of Pharaoh? They numbered in the tens of millions and regarded themselves as patriotic Egyptians. The Midrash says they “had riches and honor and did not want to leave.” They worked in civil service, the military, the royal palace, industry while denying their Hebrew ancestry and expressing contempt for the Children of Israel. Today, you might call them assimilated Jews — ready to do anything to remain in gentile society.
In 1992, Bryan Mark Rigg was a US Marine studying in Germany. During the summer he kept meeting elderly Germans who said they were of Jewish descent but managed to serve under Hitler during World War II — whether in the Wehrmacht, Gestapo and even SS. Despite the skepticism of his professors, Rigg found hundreds of half- and quarter Jewish veterans, many of them senior officers. Eventually, he wrote the award-winning book Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, in which he concluded that more than 150,000 Germans of Jewish descent served in the German military and security services — some of them authorized by the fuhrer.
But nearly 3,000 years earlier, G-d decided that no Jew would remain in Egypt. It was either resettlement in the Land of Israel or nothing. For months, the Almighty sent an unmistakable message that Egypt would not be the future. The first seven plagues virtually destroyed the empire, sparked a civil war and showed the futility of trying to pass as a gentile.
Perhaps a few of the assimilated rejoined the Jewish people. Most didn’t. The Talmud teaches that when a person dismisses rebuke, leave him alone. Push him away, the tractate Bava Kama says, and do not befriend him and expose yourself to his influence.
Rava asked Rabba Bar Mari: Where can we learn this what people say: ‘If you called to your fellow and he did not even answer you, lift up a large wall and throw it at him?’ [Rabba Bar Mari] said: ‘Because I [tried to] cleanse you, but you would not be cleansed, you will never be cleansed of your contamination.'” [Bava Kama 92b, quoting Ezekiel 24:13]
The Midrash says the plague of darkness was meant to conceal the annihilation of the assimilated. The devout Jews were ordered to bury the dead while the gentiles were unable to see or move. The Children of Israel would have been humiliated to see the Egyptians celebrate the killing of Jews — regardless of their errant ways.
Why did G-d bring darkness? Because He shows no favoritism, and He examines the heart and kidneys. Because there were criminals in Israel who had patrons from among the Egyptians. And they had riches and honor and did not want to leave. G-d said, “If I bring them a plague openly then the Egyptians will say, ‘The way it came over us it came over them.'” Therefore, He brought upon the Egyptians three days of darkness so that they [Israelites] could bury their dead and the haters would not see them. And they [survivors] would praise G-d for this. [Midrash Exodus. 14:3]
The tragic fact is that the assimilated Jews today are in the same position as those in Egypt. Regardless of their background, they feel no commitment to Judaism. Their spouses and children are usually not Jewish. Many of them will do anything to maintain their position in gentile society. They share the view of their Christian and Muslim counterparts that Jews are the oppressors, both white and privileged, and that Israel has no right to exist. Why? Because that is the price of belonging.
Overall, about a quarter of US Jewish adults (27%) do not identify with the Jewish religion: They consider themselves to be Jewish ethnically, culturally or by family background and have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, but they answer a question about their current religion by describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rather than as Jewish. Among Jewish adults under 30, four-in-ten describe themselves this way. [“Jewish Americans in 2020.” Pew Research Center. May 2020]
There is nothing in the five books of Moses that even hints to the vast assimilated Jewish society in Egypt. There’s nothing in the text to suggest that the Jews who refused to leave their adopted homeland were killed. It was as if the plague of darkness covered everything that disputed G-d’s will. And His will was that the exile was over. Those who insisted on solidarity with their gentile friends and family ended up sharing their fate.
During his research, Rigg discovered the darkness of his own family. Although raised as a Baptist, he learned from German town hall records that his ancestors were Jewish, something his parents kept from their son. More than 20 of his relatives had been killed by the Germans. Two of his relatives managed to serve in the Wehrmacht.
Rigg went home to his family in Texas and announced his decision: Despite his gentile upbringing, he would convert to Judaism. He would follow the dreams of his grandparents and come to defend Israel as an army volunteer. He would be liberated.
About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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