Why darkness? The ninth of 10 plagues that God used to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and to demonstrate God’s power always struck me as an odd plague; a plague different from all of the others.
So it was bashert that in listening to a podcast called “99 Percent Invisible,” described as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world,” that I heard about darkness. The podcast episode was called “Their Dark Materials” and described a pigment named Vantablack created accidentally in a lab through a technological process. It is made up of carbon nanotubes. This black is described on the podcast as “a pigment that reaches a level of darkness that is so intense that it is kind of upsetting. … It’s like looking at a hole cut out of the universe … it’s so black that if you stare at it you are looking at your own death.”
Now I better understand why the ninth plague has upped the show of God’s power more than a notch. Now I begin to envision, so to speak, the depth of darkness in which the Egyptians dwelt for three days.
A day or two after hearing that podcast, I saw the movie “Just Mercy” (which I highly recommend). It is about prisoners — mostly black prisoners — on death row in 1980s Alabama who were wrongly accused. It is about the many systems in place that allowed them not only to be falsely accused and convicted but to keep them behind bars or to take their lives through execution in order to allow the white community to feel (falsely) safe. It is about a different type of darkness created by the white community; a darkness that is encompassing and makes one feel as though one is looking at one’s own death. It is about a plague.
More than any of the other nine plagues, we too at times experience darkness. We know what it is when the walls encompass us, when multiple systems and forces surround us and encage us and we cannot move forward. And we know what redemption is: It is aligning with other voices and breaking free into the light. pjc
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons is the spiritual leader of Temple David in Monroeville. This column is a service of ther Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.