Parshat Bo 5771: Tangible Darkness, Supernal Light, and Its Message to Jews, to the Nations

by Moshe Burt

Parshat Bo is the one which, for me, annually relates to that crazy tune which played back “in the Old Country” a few decades ago, “Does Your Korbon Pesach Lose It’s Flavor Tied to the Bedpost Overnight?” (Actually, the real title to the song was “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?”)

Over the years, this author has opened with this nutty parody because it cuts right to the chase, to the very heart of our Parsha. That is the Mitzvot of taking the Korbon Pesach, applying the da’am on Jewish doorposts, the going up from Mitzrayim (Egypt) to “…a land flowing with milk and honey …” and the first mitzvah commanded of the National entity (B’nai Yisrael), the Kiddush HaChodesh — the sanctification of the New Moon and the relevance today of these mitzvot which relate to emunah (belief in) and yirat (fear of) Hashem.

As noted in previous Parshat HaShevuas, The Ner Uziel, by Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, z’l brings an immense amount of clarity to the parshiyot.

And it appears that by Parsha Bo, Rabbi Milevsky (Ner Uziel, Parsha Bo, pages 342-343) brings a special clarity to both the “tangible darkness” and the “supernal light” — the double whammy with which Hashem afflicted the Mitzriyim while simultaneously adding a dimension to the perceptions and clarity of believing Jews.

As to the darkness, Rabbi Milevsky defines this “tangible darkness” as “an extension of confusion and distorted view of reality” — of “a state of indecision and inner turmoil, in which simple, everyday activities become impossible” for lack of the element of clarity due to overwhelming self-doubt and confusion. In such a state, man loses the ability to function and to act. Indecision causes functional impairment rendering him cripple.

Meanwhile, when Hashem brought this “tangible darkness” upon the Mitzriyim, at the same time, He brought a “supernal light” upon the Jews. This light, unlike daytime light which we are accustomed to, was of an exclusively spiritual nature.

Rabbi Milevsky brings that it is this light which was created during the 6 days of creation — “Let there be light and there was light” (Beish’t perek 1, posuk 3), unlike the other creations which concluded “and it was so.” And so, this “supernal light” became apparent to the Jews during the plague of Choshek, but it would seem that Hashem laid the groundwork for it throughout the previous 8 Makkos (plagues).

The concluding posukim of Parsa Va’era and the beginning of our Parsha Bo illustrate the above point and establishes a flow, a connection between the 7th plague — Barad = hail and the 8th plague — Arbeh = locusts.

Moshe relates to Pharoah in Shemos, Perek 9, posukim 30-32:

“I realize that you and your subjects still do not fear Hashem. The flax and barley have been destroyed, since the barley was ripe and the flax had formed stalks. But the wheat and spelt had not been destroyed, since they are late in sprouting.”

And we see that as it hailed, Pharoah seemingly humbled himself by saying to Moshe and Aaron (Perek 9, posukim 27 and 28):

…”This time I am guilty! Hashem is Just! It is I and my people who are guilty!

Pray to Hashem! He is the Master, that He should let this G’d-proclaiming thunder and hail cease; I will let you leave. You will not be delayed again.”

R’ Hirsch comments in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman), Sefer Shemos, on posukim 30-32, page 134, that Moshe’s message to Pharoah seems:

You imagine that Hashem made a mistake, that it would have been better for Him if the hail had fallen a few weeks later… since the most important part of your produce has been spared, you are still far from truly and earnestly fearing the will of Hashem.

And so we learn in the first posukim of our Parsha Bo that the hearts of Pharoah and his servants again hardened. R’ Hirsch thus seems to connect the plague of Barad with the plague of Arbeh of our parsha by way of this explanation (Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Shemos, Perek 10, posuk 1, page 136):

If in his pride of owning all this property, Pharoah thinks that, by granting rightless strangers a meager portion of it, he is entitled, in return to deprive them of their freedom and independence and to enslave them, then Hashem will descend and destroy all this abundance. He will send into Pharoah’s kingdom a new breed of “strangers,” which will devour his property before his very eyes, down to the last shred.

By not destroying his [Pharoah’s] wealth all at once but leaving his most previous possessions intact in each instance, particularly in the hailstorm, I [meaning Hashem] left Pharoah something to which he could cling. And since I spared him — until now — the most grievous blow of all… the destruction of Egypt’s agricultural wealth, he could still doubt MY omnipotence; he could still cling to the notion that the foundation of Egypt’s might and power is under the protection of a power beyond My reach.

My [Hashem’s] purpose… was to put the stamp of My domination and majesty on each of these things, one after the other, that support man’s existence and power on earth…. to set up My signs, in his midst, in the… land of Egypt.

Later, in Perek 11, posuk 7 as rendered in translation by R’ Hirsch (Hirsch Chumash page 153) where Hashem contrasts taking the lives of the Mitzri first-born — both man and beast, with the B’nai Yisrael:

“…So that you may recognize that Hashem makes a distinction between Mitzrayim and Yisrael.”

In Perek 10, posuk 1, Hashem explains his intent upon the Mitzriyim. In posuk 2, he explains his intent regarding Am Yisrael (translation as rendered in the new Hirsch Chumash , Perek 10, posuk 2, page 137):

“And so that you may tell in the ears of your son and your son’s son the succession of acts in which I have revealed Myself upon Mitzriyim, and My signs that I have established among them, so that you may recognize that I am Hashem.”

This flow portrayed by R’Hirsch’s Chumash commentary, in retrospect, reveals to the Am Yisrael a light of truth and understanding which actually preceeds the actual plague of darkness; and which the Mitzriyim, and indeed the nations up through today are unable to discern.

Rabbi Milevsky explains that light, we know, is merely corporeal manifestation of a higher, more abstract essence — truth. The Upper realms of light are truth, while in our lower domain. light manifests as electromagnetic radiation visible to the human eye. “Truth” is supernal light which Hashem concealed at creation lest the wicked acquire and misuse it. He stored it for the righteous to use at the opportune time in the future.

He explains that during the plague of darkness (Mako of Choshech), the Jews were granted the use of this “supernal light” on this corporeal, spiritual level which was concealed from Mitzri eyes.

Having read this section in the Ner Uziel as to our parsha, and also having in mind our dear brother Jonathan Pollard — that he put his entire being on the line L’Shem Shamayim, it brought this author to search the Justice4Jonathan Pollard website to read documentation concerning the inhumane conditions of Pollard’s first 7 years of incarceration — in solitary confinement. In the process, this author found not only the countless citings of inhuman treatment during the solitary confinement, but also the the inhuman conditions in which he was kept under guard in shackles and chains in Washington D.C. for the 2 week period prior to a hearing on his case in 2003.

And let us not forget the supernal light of clarity which was Pollard’s with his first discovery of the intelligence which the U.S. was not supplying Israel — in violation of the information exhange agreement which America had made with the Jewish State. Jonathan knew what he had to do, and didn’t waver.

The fact of this being a Shabbos vort prevents one from citing all of the conditions to which Jonathan was subjected — suffice to relate to them as inhumane and akin to, if not worse than the worst conditions of Viet Cong POW captivity.

Further, it is cited in a number of places on the Pollard site that psychological assessments of Jonathan by both the CIA and the Mossad were that if he would be confined for a long period under inhumane conditions, in a small compartment, without reading material and without that which is provided for other prisoners — that Jonathan would not last and that both the State Department and Mossad would have a resolution of their problem. The same held true for the manner in which Jonathan was held prior to his 2003 hearing.

In this author’s humble opinion; in the darkness into which Jonathan was cast, he confounded them all. Rather than the darkness bringing about what Rabbi Milevsky described as having overcome the Mitzriyim; “a state of indecision and inner turmoil, in which simple, everyday activities become impossible” for lack of clarity due to overwhelming self-doubt and confusion, this very darkness appeared/appears to have become a “supernal light” for Jonathan who fought against the confinement, eventually winning release from solitary and placement in more “normal” prison conditions in Fort Butner. And it is this same “supernal light” which helped Jonathan in 2003 in the weeks leading to his hearing and helped him to avoid making what would have been life-threatening mistakes when he was brought into the hearing room after 2 weeks of confinement under the most dire sanitary conditions.

It is this same “supernal light” which seems to guide him daily according to all the texts of his website and and according to all of the writings and interviews of Esther Pollard and all who are able to visit him in prison. And it’s this same “supernal light” which seems to guide him daily according to all the texts of his website and according to all of the writings and interviews of Esther Pollard and all who are able to visit him in prison. And it is this same “supernal light”, both the light of the Makkot of Barad and Arbeh as well as the Makko of Choshek which seem the foundation upon which the emunah, courage and fortitude of the Am Yisrael was built — to take that Korban Pesach, under the very noses of the Mitzriyim who venerated it as a diety, to tie it to the bedpost overnight, to shecht it, to smear it’s blood on their doorposts as commanded by Hashem and to devour it on Seder night before the Yetziyat Mitzriyim — before leaving Mitzriyim that next morning. As this Parsha HaShevua is being compiled, Jonathan still sits in prison, in his 26th year of incarceration. May Jonathan and all of the Jewish people know ASAP; the happiness and simcha of his immediate release to join all in Eretz Yisrael for the coming Ge’ula Shlaima.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole (restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint), that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos! Good Kodesh!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.