“There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” — Amanda Gorman. This astounding poem will surely shepherd us into a new dawn. It also serves as an astounding elucidation of the graphic texts describing the plague of darkness in this week’s portion of Bo.
The darkness that plagued Egypt did not just occur in the plague of darkness. In the final chapters of the repressive regime of Egypt there was little light. The plague of locusts is described as 10:5
וְכִסָּה֙ אֶת־עֵ֣ין הָאָ֔רֶץ וְלֹ֥א יוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ They shall cover the surface (the eye) of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. Later in verse 15 וַיְכַ֞ס אֶת־עֵ֣ין כָּל־הָאָרֶץ֮ וַתֶּחְשַׁ֣ךְ הָאָרֶץ֒ They obscured the view of all the earth, and the earth became darkened. Choshech was a decisive aspect of the plague or perhaps more significantly the Egyptian reality. These were indeed dark days… and then almost as a reflection of this reality – the plague of darkness, one that was so tangible that it went beyond the inability to see, it was all encompassing- people could not move. They did not and could not change their position. They could not (take a) stand. This was less a punishment, rather, their reality. 10:23 לֹֽא־רָא֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־אָחִ֗יו – “People could not see one another”… or perhaps more poignantly people could not see the other as their Ach, brother. This tyranny was plagued with hatred and malice. Turning the other way means I cannot and will not see, turning a blind eye is living in darkness where evil is seemingly neither noticed nor perceived and not countered. The plague is the stark (or perhaps dark) result of this reality not the cause.
The ability of the Jews to maintain and attain freedom was in their devotion under such horrific conditions to continue to discern the humanity in their brothers and sisters. In this respect, as the verse continues to recount, unlike their oppressors, they were free and lived in “light”;
וּלְכָל־בְּנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָ֥יָה א֖וֹר בְּמֽוֹשְׁבֹתָֽם
but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings. Or with some poetic license on Amanda Gorman’s prolific words; for those who oppose tyranny there will always be light if only we are brave enough to be it.