No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. - Exodus 10:23
The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means "come," from Exodus 10:1-13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13-28.
In this week's reading, we encounter the ninth of the 10 plagues - darkness. The Bible relates that the darkness wasn't merely the absence of light. It had a physical presence of its own. It was tangible and so thick that people were unable to move around. The Jewish sages commented that the darkness was "as thick as a golden dinar," a type of coin. What are the sages trying to teach us by describing the darkness in this way?
The sages are teaching us a lesson that extends beyond the times of Egypt and the Exodus. The dinar is a symbol for material pursuit - our human desire for wealth and riches. The darkness described in the verse still plagues us today. The sages teach that the worst kind of darkness in the world is the kind where "No one could see anyone else." It's the kind of darkness that blinds us to the people around us.
Take two coins and hold them out in front of you. You can see the coins along with everything else around you. If a person was there, you could see that person. If the sun was rising, you could see the beautiful sunrise. But if you hold the coins right in front of each eye, you see nothing. You can't see the sun rising or the people around you. You are blinded and in complete darkness.
Sometimes, when we focus on material possessions, we lose sight of the people around us. In our quest for wealth, we are blinded to the poverty of others. In our pursuit of a promotion at work, we don't see the loneliness of our spouse or children at home. Coins and dollar bills can be blinding. According to the sages, that is the worst kind of darkness.
What's so bad about being blinded by wealth is not only do we fail to help others, we also fail to help ourselves. The verse says, "No one could see anyone else or move about." When we don't see the pain of others and don't reach out to help them, we are the ones who get stuck. We don't grow spiritually and we don't move forward on our life's path.
One rabbi put it this way, "Another person's physical needs are my spiritual obligation." In other words, helping someone else physically helps our own soul spiritually. When someone else needs our help, it's a golden opportunity for us. It raises us higher, moves us forward, and brings us closer to God.
Today, look around and see the opportunities around you for giving and helping others. Step out of the darkness. Instead of letting money blind you, allow it to bring you more light.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President