Sermon: Bo (Finding Light in the Plague of Darkness)

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 25 January 2021

‘Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff,

Americans and the world,

when day comes we ask ourselves

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?’


Amanda Gorman, a 22 year old Los Angeles born writer and performer, and America’s youth poet laureate, recited her poem ‘The Hill we Climb’ at president Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. She captivated audiences worldwide with her prose that encapsulated images both dire and triumphant.

She ended her inspiring prose with a message so sincere in its hope, a message of light.


‘When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light.

If only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.’


The dark is scary. Our rabbis teach that when Adam and Eve first saw the darkness of the day descending, Adam cried out, ‘Woe is me! Because I acted offensively the world is darkening for me and will return to darkness and desolation.’

Adam and Eve wept together that night, fearful of what it would hold. As the sun rose again, they realised that such was the way of nature.


Every evening we hold Adam’s primordial dread. We begin our ma’ariv service with the words v’hu rachum yichaper avon, v’lo yashchit – Being merciful God forgvies sin and does not destroy.

We plead with God to be merciful with us, to forgive us for our sins and to protect us through the night regardless of our shortcomings. We call on God’s thirteen attributes of mercy to help us sleep during the night, and to awaken us to experience the wonders of the world once again.


Our fear of the dark echoes that of Adam on the day of his creation. It is an anguish of change, a visceral feeling of worry about the factors that are out of our control. It is also a time where we hold guilt as we replay the day gone, we are left vulnerable, exposed to our own iniquities.


The dark is scary. The plague of darkness, therefore, was the most terrifying faced thus far.


For the Egyptians, who worshipped the sun as their source of well-being and the regenerator of their creation day by day, this plague was debilitating, and not just because the darkness was so great that a person could not see their own hand if it was held in front of their face.


Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that the Egyptians were not only enveloped by this physical darkness, but also by an emotional darkness, struck down by all the terrors they have been afflicted with. He suggests the Egyptians were plagued “by the realisation of how much their own comfort depended on the enslavement of others.”


Never before have the plagues felt more resonant than they do with us this year, as we read them stuck in the groundhog day of our own plague.


And we too are like the Egyptians at this time – plagued by the realisation that our comfort, our safety, and our health depends on others staying at home, on people being isolated, enslaved in their four walls. And for many of us that has left us overwhelmed by a darkness that is not physically but emotionally debilitating.


But we learn from the very first Adam that darkness is just temporary, and that out of the darkness comes light, because such is the way of nature.


The Talmud debates at what point that light is truly visible, for it is then that we are able to recite the morning Sh’ma. The Mishnah tells us that it is light from the moment when you are able to distinguish between sky blue and white, for that is when you will be able to see the blue string on your tzit-tzit, the string that reminds us of the commandments. Rabbi Meir suggests that it is when you are able to tell the difference between similar animals, such as a wolf and a dog. But the final decision, the one that sticks, is that it is light when you are able to see your friend from a distance and recognise them.


The rabbis of the Talmud teach us that light is relational. We are able to find light even in the darkest of moments through human contact and through genuine relationship. Throughout the Covid pandemic we have tried to reflect this in our ‘Darkness to Light’ programme, which has aimed to create light through relationship for over three hundred of our members.


The dark is scary. But we are all able to find a path into the light.


So, we revisit our first Adam, who waited patiently for the light to return, as such is the way of nature. And we find another story of Adam in our Midrash.


In this recounting of the tale Adam is once again fearing the dark that is descending on the world. He cries out once again to God, ‘Woe is me! Surely the darkness will envelop me.’

But rather than waiting around for the light to appear the next morning, in this narrative God gave Adam two flints which he struck against one another. Light came forth from the flints and Adam blessed the light.


Our two Adam stories are similar, yet different. In one Adam fears the dark and waits passively for it to pass, as is nature’s way. In the second Adam is active.

He does not wait, he is given a solution. He finds a way to comfort himself in his fear.


For us, the road to normality is still long, and no doubt we will be faced with increased darkness at points along the way. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is the light of relationship. It is our friend standing there, ready to embrace us once again. It is a smile, over a kiddush table, or a wave to a stranger you have not seen for months.


That light is a time when we are no longer confined to our houses, a time when we are able to be together in true relationship once again.



On this Mental Health awareness Shabbat, a shabbat when we are encouraged to reflect on our own wellbeing, may we find the momentum we need to take the final push forward into the light. May we be sustained by the relationships maintained during this time, and encouraged by those waiting for us when we return to a semblance of normality. And may we find the strength to be that second Adam, not enveloping ourselves in the darkness but actively looking for the light, for it is coming.


‘For there is always light.

If only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.’