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Parshat Bo – The Coin of Darkness


Exodus 10:1-13:16

Distinction between Darkness and Darkness?

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt

(Exodus 10:21)

In this verse, there is a clear distinction between darkness and darkness that may be felt. What was the nature of the darkness that could be felt? Rav Advdimi Bar Abba describes the darkness as being “doubled and redoubled” to the point where, if one was standing, he could not sit, and if one were sitting, he could not stand (Tanchuma, Parshat Va’eira 14).

We also find, in the Midrash, that this tangible darkness was precisely the darkness mentioned in Genesis, “and there was darkness upon the face of the deep” (Shemot Rabbah, Parshat Bo 14:1). [In fact, the entire set of ten plagues corresponds to the Ten Utterances through which our universe was called into existence]. What is unique about this darkness is that it was not an absence of light, but a removal of the natural darkness of night and its replacement by a thick blackness that obscured light even during the day.

Darkness as a Coin?

This darkness was, in the words of our Sages (ibid.) like a dinar (coin). Although the intention of the Sages in bringing the analogy was a description of the unusual corporeality of the darkness, we can ponder exactly why they chose to use the image of a coin in their description as opposed to any other physical item. Like all other things, money has a “redeemed” and a “fallen” state; it can sustain life, facilitate goodness, and represent the flow of Divine influx that endows our world with bounty and abundance. It can also become a tool of greed and vice, oppressing some while elevating others; it can even become an object of worship, like an idol. And like an idol, it can come to represent the perceived absence of G-dliness in the world. The one who possesses the money may begin to believe in his own power to cause things to come to be in the world, instead of G-d’s, or in the power of the money. This “fallen” state is signified by the transformation of flowing Divine sustenance into hard, unchanging objects. There are many examples in the Torah where the coin is rectified, re-elevated to its spiritual state, such as Abraham’s exchange of 400 shekels for the Cave of Machpelah, or Jacob’s minting of a coin for the town of Shechem.

In bringing upon the Egyptians darkness that was physical like a coin, G-d was enabling them to feel the true ramifications of their idolatry and wealth. Their investment of power in natural forces, statues and astrology, coupled with their enslavement and oppression of others resulted in their own subjugation by hard darkness, “like a coin”, the sum total of slave wages owed to an oppressed population for 210 years of free labor.

But the Jews had Light

By contrast, the Jews had light, as the verse states, “but the children of Israel had light in all their dwellings” (Exodus 10:23). Amidst all of this isolating, crushing darkness, the Jews had light. Here there is a parallel to the hidden light of Creation alluded to by the verse, “and G-d said, ‘let there be light”–precisely at the moment when darkness hovered over the face of the deep. The world was, in effect, being created again.

When a room is illuminated, we can see what is there; we can see each other. One of the by-products of the oneness of G-d is the unification of all Creation. When we look elsewhere for salvation, we lose our ability to see the interconnectedness of things, because it is only G-d Who unifies all. The Egyptians looked elsewhere, and not only did they lose the benefit of light, they also lost each other in the process. But the Jews, who believed in G-d, had light in their dwellings.

May we all be blessed to bask in this light.

By Rabbi Tani Burton

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