Parashat Bo – Erev Shabbat 31 January 2020
Week of 26 January – 1 February 2020
Torah portion: Exodus 10:1-13:16    Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
Theme: Ninth Plague: Darkness (Ex 10:21-29)

In Exodus 10 we hear about the plague when Egypt was covered by darkness (Ex 10:21-22). The biblical narrative begins with the report that the plague of darkness caused no one to see his brother for three days. It ends with Pharaoh’s request that Moses would not see his face again. The children of Israel could see, even though the Egyptians could not (Ex 10:23). This ninth plague apparently presents us with two miracles: one that covered all of Egypt with darkness and the other that provided light for the Jewish people.

In Ex 10:24 Pharaoh pretends to let the people go – women and children could go with them but not the cattle. In other words: He wants the people to go into the desert without any means of survival. Isn’t this another wickedness of Pharaoh’s heart? Go, but get hungry and so quickly return to the house of slavery! Pharaoh still does not see how his obstinacy causes the darkness in which nobody could see the other. The foolishness of Pharaoh’s heart causes nothing to be seen. It is chaos! It is the opposite of the Creator’s project! Instead of “Let there be light”, Pharaoh’s heart brought “Let there be darkness”.

The biblical text exposes, as in an x-ray, the true motive of the oppressive leader. In fact, Pharaoh was never willing to send the people into the wilderness to serve God. God, who had known this from the beginning, persistently offered Pharaoh many reasons to recognize who the Lord of Israel is: the One who is also the true Lord of Egypt and of all the earth. Pharaoh’s obstinacy caused blindness for himself and for his people. Pharaoh saw neither his people nor the enslaved people as bearers of any rights. His indifference and insensitivity also led him to become deaf to the divine appeals of Moses and Aaron. Eventually, it enclosed him in a dense darkness that would lead to his death. His darkness led his own people to neglect the Hebrew slaves by their collective unwillingness to free the people as the Lord God had commanded.

For Reflection and Discussion: Does the biblical narrative ask you and me if we see the other person clearly? Does it confront us with our darkness of indifference that makes us see nothing and nobody?

Bibliography: Fields, H. La Torah commentée pour notre temps. 2: L’Exode et le Levitique (Paris: 2015); Gross, F. The Heart of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus and in the Tradition of Israel (M.A. thesis 2017, in Portuguese); Leibowitz, N. New Studies in Shemot Exodus (Jerusalem: 1996)

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