Parashat Bo

Friday, January 22, 2021/9 Shevat, 5781
Parashat Bo Exodus 10:1–13:16

Parashat Bo – The Final Countdown

As we read this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo, we are witnessing the final moments of our slavery, before our redemption from Egypt. This portion begins with the final 3 plagues, locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the first born, a reminder of the killing that Pharaoh ordered, that ultimately brought Moses into our story. Obviously the 10th plague is the final straw, but I’d like to focus on the penultimate plague, Darkness.

It seems like a pretty benign plague, but our sages teach that this was not any ordinary darkness. When we read about plague #9, we might think, so what, light a torch. Or, how bad could it be to sit in the dark for 3 days? This, however, was a darkness that ran deep. It wasn’t just about light, it was about attitudes. It was a darkness, not just over Egypt, but throughout Egypt, in their very souls. Not only could no amount of light be created, but the darkness within their hearts and souls were magnified.

Even when I survived the Los Angeles earthquake in the early 90’s, I couldn’t have fathomed the darkness of Egypt. Walking out of my Santa Monica apartment in the wee hours of the morning and experiencing, for perhaps the only time in my life, complete darkness in Los Angeles, with no light pollution except the occasional electrical arcs lighting up the sky, I thought that this stillness and unwelcomed darkness might be what the Egyptians felt. But now I know better.

These past few weeks have perhaps been the closest we have ever come to witnessing the darkness of the 9th plague. At a time when we should be banning together to battle the virus plague, we witnessed true darkness, the darkness of what our President referred to this week as an “uncivil war.” We saw brother fighting brother, and a complete lack of respect of human life and dignity. We witnessed people who felt that they had nothing worth living for, except to fight, mame, and kill fellow citizens, during the horrible insurrection. We finally could understand what the darkness of the 9th plague may have been, on a small, but significant level. Sure, the light of day was still there, but the light of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was extinguished by death, hate, and the pursuit of terror, in our own sacred seat of democracy. Darkness was deep, but just like the 9th plague, will not prevail.

This week, we witnessed how light and order could be restored, as our new President took his oath of office. Please understand, this is not a statement about President Joe Biden, this is a statement about the sanctity of our republic, and the values that we all want these United States to uphold. We want our country to be a beacon of light, not a reflection of the darkness we witnessed. May this plague of 2020, and the start of 2021, begin to become a thing of the past, and may we, just as we did in our redemption from Egypt, join together as one people and move forward into a new light, a new freedom, and a new sanctity of our fellow human beings. May we put the darkness behind us, and put down our weapons of speech (and sometimes more), accepting that we all have our “inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as “one nation under God,” where liberty and justice will truly be for all.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Ilan Davidson