This week's Torah reading speaks of the plague of darkness, which engulfed the land of Egypt for seven days.

The Torah tells us that during the first three days, it was so dark that "a man saw not his fellow" (Exodus 10:23).

The story is told of a rabbi who was deeply engrossed in his studies one night, when his youngest child fell out of his cradle. Even though the rabbi was only in the next room, he heard nothing.

The rabbi's father was also studying, in his room upstairs. Nevertheless, he heard the baby and went downstairs to calm him.

Afterwards, he reprimanded his own son, who had remained oblivious throughout. "How could you leave the baby crying?"

The son replied that he had not even heard the baby crying.

The rabbi had what he thought was a legitimate excuse, explaining to his father that he simply hadn't heard. He had been so engrossed in his studies that he was oblivious to everything else.

The excuse did not wash.

"You should never be so involved in your own spiritual endeavors that you fail to hear the cry of a child," the father told his son.

The greatest darkness is when "a man sees not his fellow." It is obvious that this applies in everyday matters, in terms of not being inconsiderate or too self-centered, and avoiding similar negative traits. This idea goes further, however. Sometimes we think we are "doing the right thing" — we are involved in lofty, spiritual matters — and because of this, we are unaware of what may be taking place in the next room. We should never be so involved in our own spiritual refinement and endeavors that we remain insensitive to the cries of others.

The opposite of darkness is light. Just as a person being unable to see his fellow is like their being "in the dark," being sensitive to and aware of the needs of others brings light and goodness.