In the Torah portion of Bo we find the plague of Darkness described as follows:1Moshe stretched out his hand … and darkness and blackness extended over all of Egypt. People could not see each other, and no one left his place for three days. The Jewish people, however, had light in all the places where they were.”

According to the Midrash,2 this plague consisted of two separate miracles: a) a miraculous form of darkness that plagued the Egyptians, b) a miraculous illumination that existed only where Jews were found, and which enabled them to see where the Egyptians hid their treasures. G‑d was thereby able to fulfill His promise to Avraham that the Jews would leave Egypt “with great wealth.”3

According to Rashi ,4 however, there was only one miracle: the darkness that G‑d brought upon the Egyptians. And while it was true that the purpose of this miracle was to give the Jewish people the opportunity to search for Egyptian wealth, there was no additional miracle allowing the Jews to see what was in the Egyptian dwellings.5

Why does Rashi differ from the Midrash as to whether the “light in all the places where they were” was one of the miracles of the plague?

The “great wealth” that the Jews took with them from Egypt also alludes to the sparks of holiness found within that country. By taking out the silver vessels, etc., the Jewish people also took out and elevated the sparks of holiness from the evil of Egypt and returned them to the domain of holiness.6

“Elevating the sparks of holiness” is vitally important in the spiritual service of all Jews. Thus, in addition to the obligation of Torah study and prayer (spiritual matters that relate more directly to the person himself), a Jew must also perform the mitzvos, which usually involve physical matter.

When a person uses his mind and heart in study and prayer, he elevates his own spirituality. But when he performs the physical mitzvos and also sees to it that even his everyday permissible activities are done for the sake of Heaven, he draws spirituality into the physical universe and elevates the sparks of holiness found within physicality to the realm of sacredness.7

Accordingly, we may well say that according to Rashi these are the two aspects of the verse: a) The actual plague of Darkness provided the Jewish people with the ability to enter the Egyptian homes and behold their wealth; b) “The Jewish people, however, had light in all their places of dwelling.” This corresponds to the two previously mentioned kinds of spiritual service.

The spiritual service of Torah study and prayer illumines and sanctifies the soul of the Jew; his personal “dwelling place” is filled with divine light. The service of purifying and elevating the world by extracting sparks of holiness from the physical and returning them to the spiritual is akin to entering the Egyptian homes and returning their objects to holiness.

As things exist in their simple context — the basis of Rashi’ s commentary on Torah — these are two markedly different and possibly opposite kinds of service.

According to the Midrash , however — wherein “most of the secrets of Torah are concealed”8 — this “light in all the places where they were” is part and parcel of the miracles of the plague of Darkness.

For with regard to the divine inner intent, these two manners of service — elevating oneself and elevating the sparks of holiness within the world — are not two different kinds of service, but are bound one to the other.

This is because the ultimate purpose of Torah study and prayer is to assist a person in his sanctification of the world. For as explained in Tanya ,9 in the final analysis the soul did not descend into this world to perfect itself, for no amount of perfection can attain for the divine soul the level of holiness that it enjoyed prior to its descent. Rather, it descended below to perfect its body, the body’s vitalizing soul, and its portion in the world, by purifying and elevating them to holiness.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXXI, pp. 46-51.