By Shlomo Riskin
I have always been most fascinated — and confounded — by the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. How can darkness be tangible? Yes, darkness can be oppressive, foreboding and forbidding. But darkness is not substantive; much the opposite, it is usually defined as the absence of light, a phenomenon more akin to nothingness than to something that 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 (Ex. 10:23).
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 Hebrews and murdered their defenseless male babies. It was this spiritual blindness that certainly could be “felt” in the daily acts of inhumanity perpetrated against the Hebrews; it was this blindness that 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, signaling disasters to come. The Egyptians forced cruel living conditions upon the Hebrews; 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 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; a heavy rain of murderous hail fell down on the Egyptians. The Hebrew slaves saw the last of their crops confiscated by their masters: God sent swarms of locusts to remove the last residue of Egyptian produce. 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 then 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.
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, of Jihad and conquest by the sword. Meanwhile, 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. We must prevent extremist Islam from victory.
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 antisemitism 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, 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.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.