Louis Ginzberg says in “Legends of the Bible”: “Sight, that most indispensable of all the external senses, though unimpaired, was deprived of its office, for nothing could be discerned, and all the other senses were overthrown like subjects whose leader had fallen” Pharaoh was seen as an infallible God rather then a mere leader. God sent a message with his plagues about who exactly is all powerful. One that even Pharaoh’s courtiers, his yes-men saw before Pharaoh did. Verse 10:7 says “Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, ‘How long shall this one [Moses] be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the lord their god! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?’” Slowly Pharaoh’s reality crumbled around him, just as darkness deteriorated the realities of the Egyptians. But more importantly, God wanted the Egyptians and the Jews to recognize him as The Lord. According to Midrash, during the darkness Gd killed the Israelites who were not willing to seek redemption. That way the Egyptians would not know that God made a plague against the Israelites or that not all of the Israelites went on the Exodus.
4 years ago I gave a drash on Bo. I began to write for today’s drash thinking I would choose a different aspect of the Parsha. Yet the plague of darkness is still what flares my interest. How I understand darkness has changed, however. I used think of the experience of darkness and picture a child, motionless and unable to call out with fear of the things that might be lurking in the space outside of the bedcovers. I saw it as being within a space and not knowing what could be lurking within, I now see darkness as being disconnected in space- the fear caused by darkness is from the nothingness it holds. When Pharaoh lost his god-like status to his courtiers, the Egyptians, and himself it threw their society into a darkness where they have no connection to anchor their world, and destroyed those among the Jews who were not anchored in their belief in God. So why was darkness the penultimate plague? Because before Pharoah could accept God as God, he had to experiance the world with no god at all.