Parshat Bo: Children of Abraham must join hearts and hands

‘The Lord said to Moses: Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt, and darkness will be tangible…’ (Exodus 10:21)

Painting by Yoram Raanan (photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)
Painting by Yoram Raanan
(photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)
I have always been most fascinated – and confounded – by this ninth plague, the plague of darkness. How can darkness be “tangible,” touchable? Yes, darkness can be oppressive, foreboding and forbidding. But darkness, the absence of light, is not substantive; much the opposite, it is usually defined as the absence of light, a phenomenon more akin to nothingness than to something which can be touched or felt.
But then one phrase in the text, especially in view of how the Hebrews got to Egypt in the first place (because the jealous brothers of Joseph never “saw” the hapless favorite son of Jacob as their brother), cried out at me: “no man could see his brother” (because of darkness).
Herein is depicted a spiritual, social darkness, a veritable blindness on the part of the Egyptians, who refused to see their Hebrew neighbors as their siblings under God; therefore, since they were the more powerful, they enslaved the able-bodied Hebrews and murdered their defenseless male babies. (They saved woman for sexual pleasure.) It was this spiritual blindness that certainly could be “felt” in the daily acts of inhumanity perpetrated against the Hebrews; it was this blindness which was miraculously expressed in this ninth palpable plague of darkness.
This may very well serve as the key to understanding all of the plagues. The Egyptians turned their life-giving river into a bloodbath of innocent Hebrew babies; God turned the Nile into blood against the Egyptians.
Then instead of much-needed water for crops, frogs poured out of the Nile, with their death-heralding “croaks” signaling disasters to come. The cruel and unsanitary living conditions forced upon the Hebrews plagued them with lice; God sent lice to the Egyptians. The Egyptians came after the Hebrews like wild beasts; God sent a plague of wild beasts to afflict the Egyptians. The master-Egyptians denuded their slaves of livestock; epidemic destroyed the Egyptian livestock. The taskmasters’ whippings caused the Hebrew slaves to suffer boils on their bodies; God sent the Egyptians a plague of boils and blisters.
The whiplashes stung the bodies of the suffering Hebrews, and a heavy rain of stinging-slaying hail fell down on the Egyptians. The Hebrew slaves saw the last of their crops confiscated by their masters, and God sent swarms of locusts to remove the last residue of Egyptian produce; locusts which covered their land and filled their houses. And finally, just as the Egyptians plunged the world into spiritual darkness by enslaving and murdering God’s “firstborn” Israel, God engulfed the Egyptian world in darkness and they slew the firstborn of the Egyptians – providing new hope for humanity when Pharaoh submitted to God’s will and allowed the Hebrews to leave Egypt as free men and women.
I write these lines with trembling fingers, after a horrific week in which 12 individuals were murdered in Paris, in the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, in an extremist Muslim attack; the sin of the magazine was that it satirized the prophet Muhammad.
Two days later, on Friday, January 9, four individuals were murdered in Paris in a kosher supermarket, Hyper Cacher; their sin was buying kosher food! The frightening aspect of this is that it comes at the heels of an extremist Islamic explosion not only within the Middle East and Asia, but within Europe as well.
The peaceful Islam of the Sufi and moderate Sunni variety (11th to 13th centuries), the Islam which gave the world translations of the Greek mathematicians and philosophers, has given way to extremist Wahhabi Islam of world domination, Jihad of conquest by the sword.
And the free world is sleeping at the wheel. Iran is being allowed to continue to develop nuclear weaponry; European countries are siding with Mahmoud Abbas in his request for UN recognition even after he makes a pact with terrorist Hamas; Islamic State is on the march, beheading innocent people and taking over more and more territory in Iraq, and America is putting up too little opposition too late.
Shari’a domination is every bit as dangerous as Hitler’s Nazism, and is even more fanatically determined to make the world non-Islam free. The world once again is being engulfed in darkness. We are returning to the dark, black Middle ages, and our response must be strong and immediate.
Iran must not become nuclear and Islamic State must not be allowed to take over Iraq. Before its too late, Europe must forbid no-go Sharia zones in European countries and the American Congress must do whatever is possible to prevent President Barack Obama from continuing to abdicate free-world leadership.
We must prevent extremist Islam from victory.
And the Jewish people must understand that in these quickly changing times, we must be cognizant of the fact that God provides the cure before the knockout strike. One of the great miracles of this fateful and extraordinary period in Jewish history is the rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism after 2,000 years of Christian anti-Jewish persecution. A great majority of all Christian leadership today renounces anti-Semitism, accepts our unique Covenant with God, and deeply respects the Jewish roots of their faith.
In light of the fact that our world war against extremist Islam is a religious war and although we are fewer than 13 million Jews worldwide while there are 1.2 billion Muslims, thankfully there are also two billion Christians. Hence we, Jews and Christians who believe in a God of love, morality and peace must join hands and hearts together and fulfill our mission as God’s witnesses and a light unto the nations. Together we must reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters, first to those who understand and deplore the fact that ethical monotheistic Islam is being hijacked by fanatic mono-Satanistic Islam.
We must strengthen their voices to recapture the true faith of Islam. Then all of us together, must reach out to our errant Muslim siblings and remind them that we are all children of Abraham, the father of those who believe in a God of compassionate righteousness and moral justice. With strength and spirit, faith and fortitude, the free world will not only survive, but will prevail.
Shabbat shalom.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone institutions and the chief rabbi of Efrat. His acclaimed series of parsha commentary, Torah Lights, is available from Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

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