Darkness hovers over this week’s parsha like a plague… the ninth plague in fact! But there is a deeper meaning to this plague of darkness. What is so important about this darkness is what is mentioned right after it:
וַיְהִ֧י חֹֽשֶׁךְ־אֲפֵלָ֛ה בְּכָל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם שְׁלֹ֥שֶׁת יָמִֽים׃, לֹֽא־רָא֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־אָחִ֗יו
“And thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another.”
V’lo ra’u ish et echav. And the people could not see each other. And we see that within the manifestation plague comes the cause of the plague. The Torah teaches us that darkness really comes when we can’t see each other. When we can’t see what our fellow human beings need. When we don’t acknowledge the humanity in each and every one of us.
The words for this song come from Kabbalat Shabbat, Psalm 96. “Beauty and splendor before the Divine, Strength and majesty in God’s sanctuary.” This phrase “Hod V’hadar,” “Beauty and splendor,” is a phase that is found in scripture almost exclusively in relation to God. But in this case it is used to describe sanctuary instead. The words always get me thinking about what it is that creates beauty and splendor, what creates strength and majesty in God’s sanctuary.
The answer came to me in the form of this melody. It is the people who abide in that sanctuary, choosing to see each other and build the sanctuary together. When we see and acknowledge the humanity in each other, we lift ourselves out of the plague of darkness and our eyes are opened up to the beauty and splendor in this world, in each other. If you listen to this melody, you can here the voices building up together throughout the song. At first soft and tentative, it is the coming together that makes them strong.
On this Shabbat, let us use our eyes and our hearts to raise ourselves out of the darkness and see the humanity in those around us. Let us use our voices to build each other up and to pray.