10.4. The Ninth Plague: Darkness (10:21-27)

The actual plague:

(21) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched.”

(22) Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days.

(23) People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was; but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.

Pharaoh’s reaction:

(24) Pharaoh then summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord! Only your flocks and your herds shall be left behind; even your children may go with you.”

(25) But Moses said, “You yourself must provide us with sacrifices and burnt offerings to offer up to the Lord our God;

(26) our own livestock, too, shall go along with us — not a hoof shall remain behind: for we must select from it for the worship of the Lord our God; and we shall not know with what we are to worship the Lord until we arrive there.”

(27) But the Lord stiffened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not agree to let them go.

(21) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched”: There are no advance warnings this time, or any expectation of repentance from Pharaoh, because the educational aspect of this plague is different.

(22) Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days: A predetermined time limit is imposed on this darkness, because during this plague Pharaoh could not send for Moses, nor could Moses himself come to the palace. This plague finally sets the Jews completely apart from the Egyptians.

(23) People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was: It is a thick darkness that is not merely the absence of light, but a very dense, even solid fog that hinders mobility and in which any kindling of fire is impossible. Each person exists in total isolation, and can only think about himself.

After the previous storm of successive catastrophes that have struck Egypt, the Egyptians are now being given a respite, a period of forced silence. Over these three days each of them ponders his own path, and decides whether to remain with Egypt, or to side with the Jewish people.

But all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings: The sun is finally setting on Egypt. The light is now with Israel.

(24) Pharaoh then summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord! Only your flocks and your herds shall be left behind; even your children may go with you”: This is the first time that Pharaoh calls Moses and speaks to him even after the plague itself has ended, and not out of immediate need to end the disaster. Pharaoh assents almost completely to Moses’ demands. He tries only to detain the Jews’ livestock, hoping that this will force the people to return.

(25) But Moses said, “You yourself must provide us with sacrifices and burnt offerings to offer up to the Lord our God”: Pharaoh’s reeducation will be so complete that he too will want to participate in worshipping the Almighty. This cannot fail to impress the Egyptians and the Jews alike.

(26) Our own livestock, too, shall go along with us — not a hoof shall remain behind: for we must select from it for the worship of the Lord our God; and we shall not know with what we are to worship the Lord until we arrive there: In putting forth his demand for the Jews’ absolute departure, Moses nonetheless, for Pharaoh’s convenience and to allow him “to save face,” cloaks the demand in religious terms.

(27) But the Lord stiffened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not agree to let them go: The unbearable stress of the situation now makes it difficult for Pharaoh to offer any resistance. The Almighty therefore hardens his heart so that Pharaoh can still make his decision freely, and not in the heat of passion.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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