“Then Hashem said to Moshe, ‘hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched.’ Moshe held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was; but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.” Shemot 10:21-23
The Ramchal teaches that the plague of darkness was to separate the kedusha and the tum’ah. Light is associated with the holy and good, and darkness with that which is the opposite. In Bereishis 1:4 Hashem separated the two and the Ramchal says that ideally, the two should remain distinct and separate. There should be no mixture of the two.
“To successfully separate kedusha and tum’ah, two types of tikkun must occur. The first is to remove all the aspects of kedusha from the domain of tum’ah. The second rectification is to remove the tum’ah that had entered the domain of the kedusha.” (Ramchal on Parsha Bo)
The Ramchal says that the plague of darkness facilitated both of these tikkunim. Chazal teach that there were three purposes for the plague of darkness. 1) to afflict Egypt, 2) it gave the Jews the opportunity to search the whereabouts of the possessions of the Egyptians, and 3) Chazal teaches that Hashem brought about the plague of darkness in order to wipe out the wicked people who did not want to leave Egypt among Bnei Yisrael without the Egyptians seeing it.
The first reason is a matter of Midah Keneged Midah (measure for measure), as the Egyptians were punished for their cruelty to the Jews. Secondly, by taking the treasures of Egypt with them, the Jews were redeeming the kedusha that had been stuck in the domain of tum’ah. And finally, the destruction of the wicked people within Bnei Yisrael represented a removal of the tum’ah from the domain of kedusha. The evil had to be eradicated from within the Jewish people in order for the redemption to take place. As long as evil was present, there could be no redemption. The Ramchal says that the enslavement of Bnei Yisrael achieved its purpose, and that by their being enslaved they had merited removing the kedusha from the domain of evil that was Egypt.
“[G-d said] the time has come [for Me to fulfill] My promise to Avraham and redeem his descendants, but they have no mitzvot to perform in order to be redeemed……for they are steeped in idolatry.” (Rashi to Shemot 12:6)
How can a spiritually debased people be worthy of redemption?
“Gideon declared, ‘if our ancestors [who left Egypt] were righteous, let G-d save us in their merit; and if they were wicked, just as He performed wonders for them without reason, let Him do the same for us.” (Rashi to Shoftim 6:13)
The Malbim explains that Gideon asked G-d for a special sign before going out to battle because he thought that redemption could not take place when the nation is undeserving.
“In any event, there is a set time for our redemption. This is the period of ‘in its time’, which will come about even if [the Jews] are completely unworthy.” (Chafetz Chayim, Shel Olam Sha’ar HaHitchazkut Chpt. 13)
“You must realize that the redemption from Mitzrayim and the future redemption are comparable in many ways, except that in the future, it will be even greater.” (Ramchal, Secrets of Redemption)
The final redemption, which we anxiously await every day, will be greater in that all of Bnei Yisrael will be saved. This final exile, the Roman exile, has been excruciatingly long already. The Ramchal teaches that the final redemption will arrive at the appointed time and that at this point even the wicked among Israel will have suffered the long galut and this will have served to rectify them.
In the Haftarah to Parsha Bo (Yirmeyahu 46:27) Hashem promises the Jewish people that in due time, even “from afar”, He will save them. Even if they have drifted far from Judaism. The Kedushas Levi used to pray: “Master of the Universe, save your people while they are still Jews, for if You tarry, You will have to redeem them as heathens.”
THE NEW MOON
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” Shemot 12:2
The Sefas Emes is quoted in Ma’ayanah Shel Torah and explains that the nations of the world build their calendar around the sun, however the Jewish calendar is based on the moon. This teaches, says the Sefas Emes, that the nations can survive only as long as the light shines upon them. As soon as darkness descends upon them, they perish and disappear from the scene of history. But like the moon, which can shine even through the darkest night, the Jewish people can survive and spread light even in darkness.
The Chiddushei Ha Rim suggests that Shemot 12:2 can also be interpreted to read that Hashem was giving the Jews the ability to create newness and freshness (his’chadushus).
“While it is true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and effecting lasting change seems impossible, this is only the case for those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature.”
This is not difficult to understand in our confused world. As the secular “New Year” has just been celebrated, many people are repeating the same “resolutions” that they attempted last year and the year before. It is just as Shlomo HaMelekh taught:
“What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Kohelet 1:9
Yet, through this first mitzvah given to the collective body of Jews, and the renewing of the moon every twenty-eight days, Hashem is making the Jewish nation aware of an amazing fact: they are not bound by the laws of nature, and they don’t live under the sun, but under the moon, which changes constantly. With this first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Giving in to despair is actually a sign that one is rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature. We are to remain optimistic, remembering the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change. We have the ability to live above nature.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his commentary, Torah Lights, explains that this mitzvah should not be seen as a mitzvah which just happens to be the first. Nothing in the Torah “just happens to be”. He goes on to explain how the sun is a symbol of constancy and power, which was the very image of Egypt. 365 days each year we trust the sun to rise and set, and because of its constancy, the sun indicates that nothing is new under it, shining in an unchanging manner.
The moon however is a different story. The moon goes through many phases. Each month it gets smaller and smaller and then, when it seems to have all but disappeared, there is a sudden rebirth in the heavens. The Zohar compares the Jewish people to the moon because both go through phases, disappearing little by little until it seems that it is the end, but both stubbornly insist on being born again. The message of the first mitzvah is that in contrast to the Egyptians (and the nations at large), the Jews can and do change, emerging again and again as survivors, even when it appears that evil might annihilate them.
So, you might be asking, what does the plague of darkness and the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon have to do with each other? And how does this information help me to make better choices and live a more righteous life?
To me this speaks loudly! We must, like the moon, renew ourselves daily. Most people would not disagree with that statement, however, defining what that means becomes much more difficult. I am not sure how all this became so convoluted and complicated, but I now see it is pretty simple and straightforward. Hashem chose Avraham, and his descendants thereafter, to be His representatives on planet earth. It is the job of the Jewish people to spread His light and help the other nations understand His Oneness. Any religion outside of the one given authority by Hashem Himself (Judaism) is simply a man-made attempt to circumvent the authority He has put in place. It is the job of the Jewish people to find the sparks hidden within the nations (removing the kedusha from the domain of tum’ah), which is why they are in every corner of the world today. We are living in exciting times. We see prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. And we can rely on Hashem to fulfill His promises to Israel! He will redeem the Jews, and those who wish to be included in that redemption need to graft themselves into the true vine, which is Rabbinical Judaism. Others may claim they now possess Israel’s promises, but Hashem is not going to be confused by their claims, and He will not change His mind.
History repeats itself? We are told that what happened to the fathers will happen again to their children. The exodus from Egypt is our example, to help us understand what redemption looks like. There are many sources out there that would like to teach you what this means. But please, be very careful, and prayerfully look for only kosher sources, those who have been given the authority from Hashem, which is clearly the Sages of Judaism, and those who pass on their teachings.
“Then Yeshua addressed the crowds and his talmidim: “The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim,” he said, “sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it.” (Mattityahu 23:1-3)
To reject the teaching of Chazal is to reject true Judaism. It is actually a spirit of anti-semitism. In this day and age of “everyone does what is right in their own eyes”, I pray we have the wisdom and discernment to see where authority has been granted, and then to do our best to surround ourselves with good teachers, positive influences that encourage our desire to draw closer to our Creator, and a positive and humble attitude as we realize we do not have all the answers or we wouldn’t be seeking. My prayer for us all is that we learn to renew ourselves and to sanctify that which is renewed and holy.
“Ha-yasham yitchadesh, v’hachadash yitkadesh.” R’ A.Y. Kook
The old must experience renewal and the new must be sanctified.
Be blessed and be a blessing,