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Parshat Bo - January 24, 2015

At the very beginning of time, when just heaven and earth existed, the Torah describes it as a period of “chosech al pneiy t’hom,” “darkness upon the face of the depths.”

The very next order of “creation” business is G-d verbalizing the words “y’hi or,” “Let there be light.” The Jewish people celebrate that separation of light and dark, through Havdalah when on Saturday night the flame of the braided Havdalah candle pierces the dark, accompanied by the words “hamavdil bein or l’choshech,” “he who separates between light and dark.”

We are commanded - be an “or lagoyin,” “a light unto the nations,” so that Jewish values may illumine the minds of all mankind. Indeed the familiar term “dark ages,” describes a period in world history, when anarchy, poverty and ignorance were the order of the day, and, with a few exceptions the worlds population was, unable to read and write.

The eighth plague, locusts, is about to strike the Egyptians.  Their presence and intensity  will darken the skies and devastate the landscape, reducing the land to nothing.  Pharaoh’s councilors and staffs challenge him - “haterem teida ki avda mitsrayim” – “do you not know that Egypt is lost”? Pharaoh gives a little in his negotiation with Moses, but, even facing mounting opposition from his own court, still remains essentially unmoved! His heart and mind remain shrouded in darkness.

To end this plague, he finally admits to Moses “chatati,” I have sinned” and begs “v’yaseir mei-alaiy rak et hamavet hazeh” “just ask G-d to remove this death from me.” Even when normalcy returns, Pharaoh cannot literally “see,” the inevitability of what lies before him. Whilst there is light and the locusts have gone, the landscape is barren, desolate, darkened. Even whilst admitting, “chatah,” “I have sinned.” Pharaoh remains in his own dark world.

Whilst I am relating a biblical tale, I ask you to consider – “do you know someone like Pharaoh?” one so unmoved, so set, so opposed to change or progress that no matter what, that individual is rooted in the inevitable consequence of his or her paralysis?

No wonder that the ninth plague, darkness, is so intense that it is as if you can touch it, feel it! How terrified must the Egyptians have been, when literally rooted to their seats, unable to see each other or their surroundings.

It’s this inability to “see” each other which I fear is turning parts of our world into dark places. It is a self motivated, rather than externally imposed darkness, driven by hate and intolerance, a throwback to the dark ages. Even a Miss Universe competition is overlaid with this selfsame darkness; I know that many of us are beginning to sense an uneasiness that this darkness is encroaching upon our cherished lifestyle, no matter how distant, or remote.

It is no accident that darkness precedes the catastrophic 10th plague, for when darkness plagues us, hope and progress recede. When we cannot see, both in a literal and spiritual sense, we cannot connect.  When we cannot connect one with the other, the human spirit withers and recedes into despair and darkness.  The events within today’s Parsha, whilst describing physical phenomena, are a clarion call for light program, and everything that they represent.

It’s a history lesson for how not to live, for quality of life does not life exist where there is darkness. Hate flourishes where darkness takes hold, and the human spirit is inevitably suppressed, so that the image in which all of mankind is fashioned, the image of the Divine, becomes invisible and is extinguished from our lives.

Therfore, we are exhorted, “be a light,” an “or lagoyim.” It is our worldly role, our “chosen-ness,” our mission. Even when dark surrounds us, we must, in the beautiful sentiments of the Havdalah, divide ourselves through light, and the forces of good, from dark and the evil it represents.

Next week is Shabbat Shira, an ultimate Shabbat of light, music, and celebration.  Encourage a friend, a family member, your neighbor to attend services with you. For, in the true sentiment of Parshat, Bo, “by coming with you,” together, we will add a little more light to a world, in need of all the hope we can offer!

Shabbat Shalom

Cantor Joel Lichterman

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784