Last week, we learned of seven plagues that God imposed upon the Egyptians.
This week, in parsha Bo, God brings three more plagues upon Egypt. First is swarms of locusts: “It covered the surface of the entire land and the land was darkened.” (Exodus 10:15) Next comes three days of a foggy darkness, followed by another three days of a darkness so deep you could feel it, and it kept people from rising up. Notice that it keeps getting dark in Egypt.
Before bringing forth the tenth and last plague on Egypt, God turns to the Children of Israel to prepare them for the freedom that they are about to receive. As slaves, the Israelites had no control over their time, as their days and weeks were governed by the rules of the slavemasters. As free people, they will have to learn to organize their time themselves.
So God instructs them that Nissan (the month they are in) will become the first month of the year in the new Jewish calendar. God says that on the 15th of the month, they are to eat a lamb as part of a family observance of the day God gave the people their freedom. On this first year only, the night before the family feast, they are to take the blood of the lamb and spread it on the door posts and lintel of their houses.
At midnight on the 14th, the spiritual darkness the Israelites have suffered for centuries ends, and the darkness that has been encroaching Egypt for weeks comes to its climax. God kills the firstborn of every Egyptian household and their cattle. Those of the Children of Israel who have adopted Egyptian ways over Judaism do not mark their homes with lamb’s blood also lose their firstborn; those who have shown their faith with the sign of the lamb’s blood are saved from tragedy. The Egyptians felt the darkness of their sorrow, and “there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was no corpse.” (Exodus 12:30) Pharaoh is the only Egyptian firstborn left alive. He runs through the streets looking for Moses and Aaron, and tells them to rise up with the Children of Israel and leave.
The darkness of the last three plagues is symbolic of what happened to the Egyptians. The plague of darkness blinded the Egyptians, then kept them from moving. Pharaoh and his ancestors were blind and stuck from the start. Pharaoh was blind to Egypt’s debt to Joseph for saving the land during the famine. He did not recognize the rights of others when he enslaved the Israelites. He was stuck in his hate of the Children of Israel when he tried to kill their firstborn. He was unable to see God’s power so clearly exhibited by the plagues.
The Pharaohs knew right from wrong, and when they failed to let this knowledge illuminate their actions, they brought darkness to their decisions. Just like the next-to-last plague, this darkness was so all-consuming it kept the Pharaohs from rising up and doing the right thing.
Next week we start our journey of freedom.