“A man did not see his fellow, nor did anyone get up from his place for three days.” (Exodus 10:23).

Just as every structure has a foundation, our lives are anchored by our spiritual beliefs. Beliefs help us interpret everyday reality and make sense of the world. Our beliefs help us ascertain what’s right, wrong, true or false. They define who we are.

But what happens if one’s belief system suddenly collapses? People can be plunged into a mental state of darkness and despair.

The ninth plague G‑d wrought upon the Egyptians was intense darkness.1 Rashi describes it as “Thick darkness in which they did not see each other for those three days, and another three days of darkness twice as dark as this, so that no one rose from his place.”2

While there was actual physical darkness, on a deeper level, through each of the plagues there was the manifestation of G‑d’s presence catapulting the pagan Egyptians into an existential crisis. The reality that they had known was suspended and ceased to be. Everything in which they believed crumbled before them; their life was a sham—a mirage of false illusions.

The Other Darkness

The experience of clinical depression can feel as if one is subsumed—plagued by hopelessness and social isolation. The psychological anguish of depression places one in a type of solitary and “soul-itary” confinement. Whereas physical darkness is outside us, depression comes from within. Depressed individuals don’t want to get out of bed because they feel hopeless; there’s no reason to rise. This loss of hope can prevent people from even trying to improve their reality. They can become mentally and physically catatonic.

Regarding the plague of darkness, the Torah states that “no one could raise himself up.”

Many of us have experienced low points. Personal pain becomes our “inner Egypt of constriction.” The anguish of mental illness is a comprehensive affliction of both body and soul.

The Chiddushei HaRim states that “there is no greater darkness than one in which ‘a man did not see his fellow,’ in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of others.” When that happens, a person becomes stymied in his/her personal development as well.

What can we learn from darkness? Is there an upside to it?

Brief experiences of darkness can help us in how we view others around us. Let’s notice, enquire and get up from our place to respond. Asking someone if she or he is OK and expressing concern signals that you care. Acknowledging another’s struggle may help decrease it. It sends a message that “you matter.”

If you are suffering, let someone you trust know. Verbalizing your inner burden can help alleviate it, at least to some degree. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi stated that “one small light can push away a whole lot of darkness.”3

We are so busy living our lives that it’s easy not to notice when someone else is in a low place. Keep in mind that it’s not just what you need, but what you are needed for. Be a light for someone else, whether it’s a child or anyone experiencing confusion, pain or loss. Lighting another person’s candle doesn’t diminish your flame. We all can be lamplighters.

We live in an ever-changing world of beliefs. Truth transcends time and place; its inextinguishable light penetrates the darkness. Ignite your inner light from the everlasting flame of the Torah; then, light someone else’s.

Making It Relevant

  1. We all experience times of darkness. Strive to grow through them, not merely go through them.
  2. Try to be more mindful of the ongoing struggles of those around you.
  3. Find a trusted confidante with whom to share your thoughts and inner feelings.