The Plague of Darkness

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Darkness is Depression

“When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep. Stuck in reverse.” – Coldplay

The ninth plague was an intense darkness. According to the text, it was so intense that “they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days.”

Pretty strange. How does darkness literally paralyze an entire country? And if they really could not move or see, how did Pharaoh communicate to Moses that he would let the Israelites go? Also, what’s so horrible about a few days of darkness? A few days for everyone to rest and do nothing? Even if it’s annoying, it hardly rises to the level of destruction or pain experienced during the other plagues. So what’s going on here?

Imagine you just endured eight disastrous plagues. Imagine your powerful king could have avoided all the trouble but failed you as a leader. Imagine you are helpless to stop the misery but you wish you could end it all. Imagine everything in your world was broken and destroyed – no water, no cattle, no buildings, no crops, nothing left at all.

I think the only thing we would feel is a dark, dark melancholy, a deep, deep depression that could only be described as an intense darkness. We would be so broken by our sadness that we would not even see our friends. We would be so debilitated by our depression that we would not even be able to move. We would feel so powerless that until something changed that inspired us to hope again for light, we would just wait to be saved from our darkness.

The Egyptian people became fully aware of their plight and they felt an intense darkness. They were unable to move. The could not see their friend nearby holding out a helping hand. That was the ninth plague. Feeling the darkness of their own failure and the utter hopelessness of their situation, the entire country plunged itself into an emotional darkness – a most devastating plague.

Suffering from a similar but less debilitating depression, Pharaoh begs Moses to take the Israelites but leave their flocks in Egypt as collateral. “Just go because I don’t have the strength to fight anymore.” Moses says no thank you and tells Pharaoh that they will go with their flocks.

Then God rescued Pharaoh from his depression – “God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.” God’s people would not be freed by the failings of a broken depressed man. God’s people would leave when Pharaoh really wanted them to leave. So God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh – healed his sadness, and in turn the entire country, now inspired by the strength of its fearless leader, awoke from the paralyzing darkness of their depression.

Knowing what we know about depression, I think that it fascinating to explore an interpretation of darkness as depression. Depression can paralyze us and can blind us to the love of our friends and family who are right next to us – we just can’t see them because of an intense darkness generated by depression.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is the founder of
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