The Maharal of Prague (Gevuros Hashem, 57) famously explains that the ten plagues in Mitzrayim, correspond to the ten utterances of G-d with which the world and the heavens were created.

The Shem MiShmuel (parshas Bo, sv. וכענין שאמר) explains that the makkos of choshech (the plague of darkness) corresponds to the utterance of G-d, in which He said: "“ויהי אור” "- Let there be light! (Bereishis 1:3).

The Shivlei Pinchas (Parshas Bo, 5775) explains that the ten plagues were a tikkun for the corresponding kelipah. This idea can be found in the Sfas Emes (Parshas Bo, sv. אא"ז מו"ר).

My question, based on the above, is as follow:

It is a known idea that if the Jewish people would stay in Mitzrayim any longer, they would fall to the 50th gate of tumah (kelipah/impurity) and the saving of them would be much more difficult (Beis HaLevi, Parshas Bo, sv. והנה בהגדה של פסח). So, how is putting darkness over the earth a way to remove that kelipah? It would seem logical that in order to remove (spiritual) darkness, you'll need to bring in more light. So, based on the above, how did the bringing of darkness in Mitzrayim as a makkah, serve as a rectification of the kelipah of darkness and bringing in more light?

(Similary, the Shivlei Pinchas, Bo 5775 writes that "Since darkness is the opposite of light, HKB”H correspondingly imposed darkness on the Egyptians." - but this is hard to understand, since in order to dispose the darkness, you will need light, right?).

2 Answers 2


To summarize the question:

  • Maharal of Prague: 10 מכות of Shemos || 10 מאמרות of Bereishis
  • Shem MiShmuel: within the Maharal’s idea - מכת חשך || the statement of ויהי אור
  • Q. How did darkness in מצרים rectify of the קליפה of darkness and bringing in more light?

The missing piece here is likely the line in מכת חשך of ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם.

From this it can be that what the Maharal and Shem MiShmuel are implying is that part and parcel of מכת חשך was that there would be אור only for בני ישראל and that there is a strong hint here that this אור wasn’t merely a non-חשך where the miracle and aberration were the חשך, but that even the light was of a miraculous G-d-directed nature just like the light of the first day of creation. Not merely sunlight with an absence of darkness, but a much more profound presence of a type of heavenly, positive light.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the nucleus of this idea stems from the fact that there are only two times in the Torah where the root of היה immediately precedes the word אור. Each of these two occurrences happen to come on the heels of, and in contradistinction to, a mention of חשך:

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום…..ויאמר אלקים יהי אור ויהי אור

ויהי חשך אפלה בכל ארץ מצרים…..ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם

Indeed in בראשית א:ג, the רבינו בחיי hints to this linkage of pesukim and wording. He quotes the following from בראשית רבה ג:ה which links each of the five times אור is mentioned at the very beginning of the Torah (אור, אור, האור, האור, לאור) to how each of the חמשה חומשי תורה represent concepts of אור. But he also makes an important addition and inference to our pasuk in question (highlighted below) to sharpen the idea and which the original wording of the midrash doesn’t mention:

א"ר סימון ה' פעמים כתיב כאן אורה כנגד חמשה חומשי תורה, יהי אור כנגד ספר בראשית שבו נתעסק הקב"ה וברא עולמו, ויהי אור, כנגד ואלה שמות שבו נגאלו ישראל ממצרים ויצאו מאפלה, וכתיב ביה (שמות י כג) ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבותם

From the following sources on the level of דרש, there is a consistent message that the light that בני ישראל did have did have was of a totally miraculous nature in both where the light was available and also in the nature of the light.

From שמות רבה יד:ג we see that בני ישראל not only had light in Goshen and not only light in their own homes in case they dwelt in the heart of מצרים but even wherever they would walk in מצרים:

שֶׁהָיָה יִשְׂרָאֵל נִכְנַס לְתוֹךְ בָּתֵּיהֶן שֶׁל מִצְרִים וְהָיוּ רוֹאִין בָּהֶן כְּלֵי כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב וּשְׂמָלוֹת, אִם הָיוּ אוֹמְרִים אֵין לָנוּ לְהַשְׁאִיל לָכֶם הָיוּ יִשְרָאֵל אוֹמְרִים לָהֶן הֲרֵי הוּא בְּמָקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי, בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הָיוּ הַמִּצְרִיִּים אוֹמְרִים אִם הָיוּ אֵלּוּ רוֹצִים לְשַׁקֵּר בָּנוּ הָיוּ נוֹטְלִין אוֹתָן בִּימֵי הַחשֶׁךְ וְלֹא הָיִינוּ מַרְגִּישִׁין, שֶׁהֲרֵי רָאוּ אוֹתָן כְּבָר אַחַר שֶׁלֹא נָגְעוּ חוּץ מִדַּעְתֵּנוּ כְּמוֹ כֵן לֹא יַחֲזִיקוּ, וְהָיוּ מַשְׁאִילִין לָהֶן, לְקַיֵּם מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית טו, יד): וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב: וּלְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הָיָה אוֹר וגו', בְּאֶרֶץ גּשֶׁן לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא בְּמוֹשְׁבֹתָם, שֶׁכָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁהָיָה יְהוּדִי נִכְנַס הָיָה אוֹר נִכְנַס וּמֵאִיר לוֹ מַה שֶּׁבַּחָבִיּוֹת וּבַתֵּבוֹת וּבַמַּטְמוֹנִיּוֹת. וַעֲלֵיהֶם נֶאֱמַר (תהלים קיט, קה): נר לרגלי דברך ואור לנתיבתי וגו'.

That during the days of darkness, בני ישראל would be enter the homes that were darkened for the מצרים and see where the valuables were kept for the purpose of requesting them after the מכה was over and in this way the מצרים couldn’t deny their presence and couldn’t deny their request.

The nature and cause for this light and ability to see is explained in the following:

The תרגום יונתן on ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם states:

וּלְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְרָאֵל הֲוָה נְהוֹרָא לְמִקְבּוֹר רַשִׁיעַיָא דִי בֵינֵיהוֹן דְּמִיתַן וְזַכָּאַיָא לְמֶעֱסוֹק בְּמִצְוָתָא בְּמוֹתְבָנֵיהוֹן

Light for בני ישראל to bury the wicked among them who die during the plague and for the righteous to engage in מצוות. Unclear still from this whether the light was a cause for the מצוות or the מצוות were a cause for the light.

In the מדרש הגדול on our pasuk, in מכת חשך, it has the following and goes a step further than the תרגום יונתן, but might even be explaining or expanding upon the Targum when it contrasts בני ישראל vs. the אומות העולם (indeed ר' דוד צבי הופמן, in the section of הוספות in his edition of the מכילתא דרשב"י, was of the opinion that the source of the idea in the מדרש הגדול originally stemmed from the מכילתא דרשב"י and it is his version of this midrash that appears on Sefaria).

אמר ר' יצחק אוי להן לאומות העולם שהן נידונין לפי מעשיהן שנ' (ישעיה כ"ט ט"ו) הוי המעמיקים מה' לסתיר עצה והיה במחשך מעשיהם לפיכך לוקין בחשך שנ' (תהלים ל"ה ו') יהי דרכם חשך וחלקלקות אבל ישראל מה כת' בהן ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם שהן עסיקין בתורה ובמצוות שכת' בהן (משלי ו' כ"ג) כי נר מצוה ותורה אור:

In this version, it’s Torah and מצוות where these are an ultimate cause of light and a source of light just like the wickedness of the מצרים was the cause of their darkness. So when the Jews had light during מכת חשך, it was a profound presence of a positive spiritual light.

On the level of פשט, there are a number of opinions in the מפרשים which address the scope of where בני ישראל did have light. Some of those מפרשים hold that the פשט and the דרש are one and the same.

  • The בכור שור implies that על פי פשט, the dichotomy between light and dark was between ארצות, so במושבותם here merely means Goshen.

  • For the the רשב"ם and רלב"ג, the פשט here is that the dichotomy was between the homes where even if a ישראל lived right next to a מצרי, the Jewish home would have light and a מצרי home would have darkness.

  • The אור החיים and חזקוני and הכתב והקבלה and העמק דבר on our pasuk maintain the same as we saw in the midrashim that the dichotomy between light and dark was so fine-grained that it was between the people and wherever a ישראל would walk there would be light - even in the darkened home of a מצרי. The latter three make a the דיוק brought earlier in a midrash בְּאֶרֶץ גּשֶׁן לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא בְּמוֹשְׁבֹתָם - and say due to this דיוק even על פי פשט the נס was that בני ישראל had the benefit of light even within the darkened homes of the מצרים.

But on whatever scope the נס happened (by region, by home or by person) one can still say that בני ישראל merited a special positive light in a pinpointed sense that differentiated them from the מצרים.

  • 1) Thank you for the detailled answer. I like it, but still have some questions. I like the idea of the Targum that there was choshech for the Egyptians, but light "for the righteous to engage in מצוות". Maybe the peshat here is that the Jewish people could not do mitzvos, so Hashem made it dark, so we could do mitzvos and the Egyptians could not see it. Does that make sense? So, according to the above, and what you've mentioned, the darkness could be in order for us to do mitzvos, right?
    – Shmuel
    Jan 19 at 8:37
  • 2) But, I've read that the makkah of choshech was also a "spiritual darkness" that fell upon the Jewish people. But darkness upon darkness makes it even more dark, right? So the question partly remains that "wouldn't it be better to put more light in it?".
    – Shmuel
    Jan 19 at 8:38
  • @Shmuel - re: 1) what I was trying to show above is that acc. to T"Y and mechilta d'rashbi the fact that the Jews are mekayeim Torah and mitzvos is a goreim for light to come, re: 2) does your makor say that "spiritual darkness" also existed among the tzaddikim during makas choshech (also what is your makor)? there might be other opinions, but from the sources i've seen so far (both al pi pshat and al pi drash) it's pretty consistent that the Jews had light as part and parcel of the neis
    – EraserX
    Jan 19 at 14:17
  • Thanks. Refer to here for the cited source. The sefer MiShulchan HaGavoah also says that B'nei Yisrael had light during the darkness due to Torah and mitzvos, but are there explicit sources thay say they were holding Torah and mitzvos? I have read in Magid HaRakiah (Pesach) that what Avraham planted, e.g. Torah, knowledge of Hashem, mitzvos etc. were diminished in Mitzrayim.
    – Shmuel
    Jan 19 at 15:15
  • The explicit source that they were holding by Torah and mitzvos is the מדרש הגדול\מכילתא דרב"י quoted above. In my mind this could mean the essentials that they inherited from the avos before matan Torah or maybe merely saying that by definition, klal Yisroel even before matan Torah was a nation destined for Torah.
    – EraserX
    Jan 19 at 15:28

I believe the answer to be as follows:

There is an important idea, expressed in Nefesh Hachaim, that the idea of Middah K'negged Midah is that the damage one caused to the world is brought upon them, thus removing the effect of the sin. So in this case, the Egyptians brought darkness to the world. It was rectified by having the darkness manifest in the physical world, as punishment, thus cleansing the spiritual world.

  • Nice idea, I saw this idea in different sefarim. Where can this Nefesh HaChaim be found?
    – Shmuel
    Jan 20 at 17:42
  • I added the link. Besides for that particular place, the whole concept is a big theme of Shaar Aleph.
    – N.T.
    Jan 21 at 2:29

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