SALT - Tuesday, 6 Shevat 5781 - January 19, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah tells in Parashat Bo that during the ninth plague, the plague of darkness, while the Egyptians were unable to see or move about, “there was light for all the Israelites in their residences” (10:23).  The simple meaning of the verse is that in contrast to the Egyptians, who were plunged into darkness, the areas where Benei Yisrael lived were sunlit as usual. 
Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer (19), however, as well as the Midrash Lekach Tov, comment that throughout this plague, Benei Yisrael enjoyed sunlight even during the nighttime.  The miracle of this plague, according to these sources, was not only that the Egyptians were in darkness even by day, but also that Benei Yisrael had sunlight even at night, and this is then is the intent of the verse, “there was light for all the Israelites in their residences.”  Rabbeinu Efrayim, in his commentary, finds an allusion to this miracle in the final letters of the words “u-l-khol Benei Yisrael haya” (“and for all the Israelites there was”), which spell the word “layla” – “night,” indicating that Benei Yisrael had light even during the nighttime.
            Some have suggested explaining on this basis Targum Yonatan ben Uziel’s comment to this verse, stating that during the plague of darkness, when Benei Yisrael enjoyed light, “they were privileged to involve themselves in mitzvot in their residences.”  According to Targum Yonatan, it seems, the Torah emphasizes that Benei Yisrael enjoyed light during this period to indicate that they had the opportunity to perform mitzvot.  While the Egyptians were engulfed by darkness, unable to engage in constructive activity, Benei Yisrael had sunlight which enabled them to pursue spiritual achievement.  If we apply Targum Yonatan’s reading to the Midrashic tradition that Benei Yisrael had light even at nighttime during the plague of darkness, then it emerges that Benei Yisrael were given extra time for performing mitzvot.  During this plague, they were given additional hours of illumination, and they seized those hours as a precious opportunity to serve the Almighty.  Targum Yonatan draws our attention to the fact that Benei Yisrael did not simply enjoy the extra light they were miraculously given, but utilized it for the lofty purpose of performing mitzvot.
            All of us, in one way or another, have received special “light,” unique opportunities and capabilities.  We all have singular talents, skills, resources or circumstances that allow us to achieve in a distinct way.  Targum Yonatan’s interpretation of this verse – “there was light for all the Israelites in their residences” – teaches us to utilize all our special “light” for the right purpose, to capitalize on all opportunities we have been given to perform mitzvot and serve God.  The “light” and blessings we have been given are to be not just enjoyed, but utilized in the service of the Almighty and for the sake of making the greatest contribution that we can make.