In this week’s Parshah, the last three plagues befall Egypt before the people of Israel leave their slavery. The ninth plague, darkness, is described in these words: “No man saw his brother, neither did anyone rise from his place.”1

With this description, an event in history becomes current and contemporary. The plague of darkness becomes part of the timeless history of man, symbolic of analogous afflictions that admit no immunity. Simple physical darkness of the night becomes a malady of the individual, of the soul.

There is no blindness like the selfishness that blots other men from one’s visionThere is no blindness like the selfishness that blots other men from one’s vision—the darkness that prevents one man from seeing his brother. This is the plague directed outwardly.

Another aspect of the darkness affliction is satisfaction with what one is, the stagnation that keeps man from growing, from rising from his place. There is a smug arrogance in the very common statement people actually make, “I am a good man.” Such people, blind to their shortcomings, become insufferable; they never dare entertain the possibility that they might be imperfect.

These are the universals in the plague of darkness: the self-centeredness that excludes other men from consideration, and the contentedness that assures us we have attained the epitome of goodness. Darkness keeps us from seeing others or ourselves.