Towards the beginning of Parshat Bo, Hashem brings upon the Egyptians the ninth plague - choshech, complete darkness. Why was this plague appropriate?
Towards the beginning of Parshat Bo, Hashem brings upon the Egyptians the ninth plague - choshech, complete darkness. Why was this plague appropriate? Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, offers two reasons: The first reason was to conceal from the Egyptians the deaths of those members of the Jewish people who had become so immoral and corrupt that they didn't deserve to participate in the exodus. They died and were buried while it was dark and the Egyptians couldn't see. If they had to die, Hashem wanted to prevent the Egyptians from degrading the Jewish people by saying, "Their G-d smites them just as He does us."
Rashi's second explanation is that since only the Children of Israel were able to see during this plague, it provided them with the opportunity to search the Egyptian homes and find the valuables that were stolen from them during their servitude. Later, before leaving Egypt, they would return to the Egyptian homes and retrieve their stolen items.
Why does Rashi cite two reasons for this particular plague? Rabbi Hillel Revel, a contemporary Torah scholar, quotes a startling Midrash that will help us explain why two reasons are necessary. The Midrash states that before Hashem brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, the proposition was presented before the Heavenly Court to determine whether the Egyptians were deserving of it. The Heavenly Court unanimously agreed that darkness was fitting for the Egyptians; thus darkness descended on them.
However, from the Talmud's discussion in Tractate Sanhedrin, a question can be raised on this Midrash. In discussing the laws of capital punishment, the Talmud says that whenever a person is accused of a crime worthy of the death penalty, he is brought before a court of 23 judges to determine whether or not he is guilty. If he is found guilty by a majority vote, he is then given the death penalty. Paradoxically, however, if the court unanimously agrees that he is guilty, he does not receive the death penalty. The court's duty is to preserve life, and a unanimous vote would be very unlikely and suspicious. He cannot be executed unless there was someone in the court to defend him. That is, unless two reasons are presented before the court as to why this person deserves the death penalty. Only then can the court follow through on a unanimous ruling with the appropriate punishment.
We can now look back at the Midrash and see why the plague of darkness was brought upon Egypt, even though the vote in the Heavenly Court was unanimous. As Rashi made a point of explaining, there were two reasons for the plague of darkness.
Adam Grossblatt, a Yeshiva Atlanta graduate, writes from Atlanta.
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