When I was in 5th grade, I had to write a paper on a plague. One of the ten plagues. So I chose Darkness, חֹשֶׁך . I remember drawing dark figures on yellowy manila construction paper. Sort of the like the image on the right.
The inspiration for this is Rashi’s commentary that there were two three day periods of the darkness. Why should it say ‘three days’ twice? During the first period the Egyptians could not see each other. During the second, no man could arise from his place.
I remember trying to visual people being paralyzed in their places. I also have a vague memory of classmates joking about Egyptians being stuck on a toilet, if that’s where they were.
So now as an adult, I like viewing the division of darkness into three types: physical, emotional and spiritual. The physical is what I have already described. Emotional would be like depression; one feels in a deep, dark gloom, but then when the darkness lifts, the feeling is freedom. Finally, for the spiritual or moral darkness, I will quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
The greatest god in the Egyptian pantheon was Ra or Re, the sun god. The name of the Pharaoh often associated with the exodus, Ramses II, means meses, “son of” (as in the name Moses) Ra, the god of the sun. Egypt – so its people believed – was ruled by the sun. Its human ruler or Pharaoh was semi-divine, the child of the sun-god.
In the beginning of time, according to Egyptian myth, the sun-god ruled together with Nun, the primeval waters. Eventually there were many deities. Ra then created human beings from his tears. Seeing, however, that they were deceitful, he sent the goddess Hathor to destroy them; only a few survived.
The plague of darkness was not a mofet but an ot, a sign. The obliteration of the sun signaled that there is a power greater than Ra. Yet what the plague represented was less the power of G-d over the sun, but the rejection by G-d of a civilization that turned one man, Pharaoh, into an absolute ruler with the ability to enslave other human beings – and of a culture that could tolerate the murder of children because that is what Ra himself did.
When G-d told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “My son, my firstborn, Israel” He was saying: I am the G-d who cares for His children, not one who kills His children. The ninth plague was a Divine act of communication, that said: there is not only physical darkness but also moral darkness. The best test of a civilization is: see how it treats children, its own and others’. In an age of suicide bombing and the use of children as instruments of war, it still is.