In this week's Torah portion, we read the final chapter leading up to the
exodus from Egypt. The ninth plague was a pivotal moment in the unfolding
saga for it was during its execution that a striking distinction-obvious to
all-was made between the Egyptians and the Jewish people. It was during the
course of this plague that the unique and separate identity of the Jewish
The Torah tells us that in the thick darkness that descended upon the land
during this plague, "No man could see his brother. Yet for all the children
of Israel, there was light in their dwellings." Apparently it was this
feature -light amidst paralyzing darkness- that determined the essential
difference between the Jewish people and the Egyptians.
Why does the Torah stress the inability of each Egyptian to see his brother?
Was that the most acute aspect of the affliction? One would imagine there
were even more frightening consequences brought about this devastating
plague in which people must have felt as if they were suddenly going blind.
Perhaps, herein lies the essential difference between the Egyptian nation
and the Jews. The Egyptians were steeped in the pursuit of materialism. The
more immersed we are in the pursuit of the material, the less we are able to
truly care and feel for our fellow man. We become more absorbed in our needs
and desires, thinking in terms of "I need," "I want," "I deserve." This
self-preoccupation isolates and distances a person from others.
Disengaging from this all-consuming pursuit affords us the opportunity to
see the other and to connect with him, to feel and empathize with our fellow
man. It encourages us to recognize that we are essentially one with
humankind, a single collective consciousness attached to the Heavenly throne.
The plague of darkness highlighted the core difference between the Jewish
and Egyptian nations in that the darkness represented the all-consuming
self-preoccupation of the Egyptians.
The Jewish people on the other hand, embraced their spiritual connectivity
to one another, preparing themselves to become one nation defined by their
service to the Creator.
The great Ponevezher Rov, Rav Kahaneman was a visionary builder of Torah
life in Israel. To support his network of Torah institutions, he traveled
the world raising significant funds on behalf his Yeshiva, orphanage and
network of schools.
On a visit to South Africa, he attempted to raise funds in a community where
the rabbi was unsympathetic to his religious cause. The rabbi denied him the
opportunity to address the congregation and solicit their support for the
Yeshiva. The Ponevez Rov asked the rabbi if he could simply wish the
congregants "sholom aleichem." Unable to turn down this innocuous request,
the rabbi assented.
The Rov ascended the podium and gazed intently at the faces before him.
"Sholom aliechem, sholom aleichim, sholom aleichem!" he declared. "I welcome
you three times, just as we say "Sholom Aleichem" three times during Kiddush
Levanah, when we recite a blessing over the new moon each month. That is
interesting," continued the Rav. "Why do we say "sholom aleichem" when we
are blessing the new moon? Hmm. I would love to answer, but the rabbi has
restricted me from saying anything more than "sholom aleichim."
With that, he stepped away from the podium. The community leaders swirled
toward him, begging him to answer the intriguing question. The Rav looked
questioningly at the rabbi, who had no choice but to nod his assent.
Whereupon the Rav ascended the podium once again and addressed the
"My friends," he said, "let me share with you a story that tool place not
long ago. Two nations were pitted in a territorial battle against one
another. Their armies amassed on both sides of a river and were poised to
attack. One side sent out spies in the dead of night to reconnoiter the
enemies' camp, to detect where they were most vulnerable. Stealthily, they
stepped into enemy territory and started recording their findings.
All of sudden, they became aware of soldiers facing them with guns cocked.
Terrified at having been discovered, they grasped their revolvers to defend
themselves. Before they could shoot, the clouds abruptly parted and the moon
shone in its full force. In that sudden burst of light, they spies saw that
the "enemies" were simply another group of spies that had been sent by their
general to spy out the enemy camp.
"Friends!" they called out, falling into one anothers arms in a warm
embrace, "Sholom Aleichem!" they cried out to each other.
"My friends!" declared the Ponovez Rov from the podium. "We are all one
camp, we are one people, united in one mission to preserve our sacred Torah
As we know, the destruction of the Second Temple came about through sinas
chinom, groundless hatred and it will be restored through the power of
ahavas chinom, "groundless" love-love that needs no rationale or excuse for
its existence. When we recognize that we are essentially one nation and one
people, our difference evaporate. The profound realization of our
fundamental oneness with our fellow Jews will hasten the ultimate redemption.