The Plague and Promise of Darkness

A d’var Torah (Torah Discussion) Presented by David Raphael at Congregation Or Hadash, Sandy Springs, GA
January 22, 2021

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched.” (Exodus 10:21)

I am struck by the description in the text of the plague of darkness, “a darkness that can be touched.”  This darkness is palpable…it is visceral.  It is around us and inside us. It is painful. For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “darkness that can be touched.”

But we know that, from the very beginning of Creation, darkness is part of the universe in which we live—it is part of God’s Creation (Genesis 1:2).  Sentient beings cannot exist in a wholly dark world, and so God separated the darkness from light—but God didn’t end darkness’s existence.

God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:4)

We also learn from our text that the origins of life’s plagues and tragedies may always lie beyond our understanding.  We cannot fathom the complexity of God’s Creation.

Have you surveyed the expanses of the earth? If you know of these—tell Me. Which path leads to where light dwells, and where is the place of darkness that you may take it to its domain and know the way to its home? (Job 38:18-20)

A search earlier in Genesis reveals another episode of profound darkness:

As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great dark dread descended upon him. And He said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end, they shall go free with great wealth….” (Genesis 15:12-14)

In the midst of the great dark dread that overcame Abram, he was shown a vision of his future and the future of his people—most notably the enslavement in and liberation from Egypt.

It would be foolish and, in fact, cruel to imply in any way that plagues, or in our case pandemics, are good.  Nor do I subscribe to the aphorism “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.”  A plague is not a lemon, and you can’t make plague-aide.  If there is an adage to which I subscribe, it is my mom’s old saying, “It is what it is.”

However, plagues, such as pandemics, happen and will continue to be part of the world in which we live.  And, because of this, it is up to each of us to try to make some sense out of it and perhaps derive meaning from even the most difficult of conditions.

What have you learned from the plague of COVID-19? Please share your thoughts at


Photograph by Steve Schneider