[The drash below is written in memory of my grandmother, Joan Bluestein (z"l) who died 11 months ago today (on the Jewish calendar) and for whom we have now ended the 11 month period of daily kaddish.]
This week’s Torah portion is Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) and includes the last few plagues. Our tradition teaches that one of the more difficult plagues was the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. Darkness surrounded the Egyptians, spreading so extensively that “They did not see one another, nor did any of them rise from their place….” (Exodus 10:23)
The darkness halted regular life for the Egyptians. Not only did daily activities cease, but the people were unable to connect with one another. Physical sight impeded seeing the humanity within oneself and others. Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter (HaRIM) illuminates the potency of the darkness in his comment on verse 10:23:
The worst darkness is that blindness in which one person will not ‘see another,’ refusing to look upon his misery and to help him. He who will not ‘see another’ will himself become incapable of ‘rising from his place;’ that is, of growth and development.*
Darkness swallowed the ancient Egyptians, temporarily disconnecting them from their lives. Unable to truly those around them they feel deeper into the darkness until the end of the plague. Sometimes challenges can bring us into despair or darkness and we need others to see us and help us rise from that place.
My grandmother strove every day to truly see the others in her world and bring us light. She did this for her parents, her brother (and his family), her husband, children, grandchildren, patients, co-workers, volunteers, friends and for herself. She faced challenges in her life, times where she had to find a source of light. Her strength, courage and faith helped her rise from those places. As a wife, mother, grandmother and businesswoman she took care of those around her with dedication that brimmed with love. As a dietician she provided her patients (and her family) with healthy food that took into account their individual needs. As a volunteer she brought light and her strong work ethic to WGUC, a second family of friends. As a Jew she was dedicated to the growth and development of a strong Jewish identity in her daughters (and granddaughters). A Classical Reform Jew from birth she loved the teachings, values, traditions and foods of her heritage. A quiet champion of hard work, family, Judaism, love and community she encouraged all around her to grow and develop, to see the potential within them and bring light into the world. I am lucky to have known her, called her grandma and be nourished by her. May she continue to inspire us to illuminate the world.
*Source text = Hiddushei HaRIM as presented in Wellsprings of Torah: an Anthology of Biblical Commentaries, by Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, translated by Gertrude Hirschler, New York:The Judaica Press, 1980, page 127. HaRIM was the founder of the Ger dynasty of hassidic rabbis lived from 1799 to 1866 and unfortunately knew much sadness in his own life. Many of his thirteen children died in his lifetime. Read more about him in the Jewish Virtual Library.