Imagine if Moses were to come to America today with the mission of bringing the Jews to Israel. Chances are that his call would be met by deaf ears. Maybe he’d be stoned. Let’s face it – outside of a few weirdos, who would listen? He’d be interfering with their plans, their college degrees, their careers, their businesses, their golf games, and tennis lessons. Some would question his authority. Others would want to see proof that God had really sent him. Reform Jews, like Pharaoh, would say, “Who’s Hashem that I should listen to him?” Others would laugh at Moses’s biblical garments and staff. Probably most of them would tell him to get lost.
Not that it would ruffle Moses. After all, he had witnessed the very same scenario before, when he came to take the Jews out of Egypt. Back then, only a fifth of the Jews agreed to follow him to the Land of Israel. Four-fifths of the Diaspora-loving Jews died in the plague of darkness, as this week’s Torah portion reveals.
The Torah describes the plague as darkness that could be felt, darkness “mamash” (Shmot, 10:21). The darkness was so thick, you could literally reach out your hand and feel it. Rashi says that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were Jews in that generation who were wicked and they did not want to come out of Egypt, and they died in the three days of darkness, in order that the Egyptians should not see their fall and say, ‘They too are smitten as we are’” (Shmot, 10:22). To avoid the great embarrassment that His people, the Children of Israel, did not want to go home to the Land of Israel, G-d brought a thick, tangible darkness over Egypt so that the goyim wouldn’t see this terrible disgrace.
Unfortunately this same dense darkness has enveloped Diaspora Jews today. It is a darkness so thick, you can actual feel it. Jews who have made aliyah, and who go back to America, or France, or England, to visit relatives, know what I mean. After speaking with fellow Jews there for a few minutes, you get the creepy feeling that they are totally out of touch with what’s really important. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t know what’s going on at all. You can talk about aliyah until you are blue in the face, but they don’t understand a thing. Things that aren’t important at all, like the latest hit movie, their new car, their jobs, and the standing of the Knicks, are what really turns them on, not what’s going on in Israel. Whenever I have to go there, I get the feeling that I am in a gigantic Alzheimer’s ward, where the patients have forgotten who they are.
I’m not talking about the many devoted addicts of The Jewish Press, who click on every day to see what’s happening “b’Aretz.” I am talking about your average Haredi, Modern Orthodox, or assimilated Jew. For them, Washington D.C. is their nation’s capital. America is their homeland. Judaism is their religion, not their nationality. They are Americans first. Hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at baseball games gives them goose bumps. Their children pledge allegiance to the American flag. Their forefathers are Betsy Ross and George Washington. If Moses himself came and tried to persuade them that the Land of Israel was their real home, they’d look at him like he was nuts.
That’s the meaning of darkness so dense you can feel it.
I am not blaming them. The darkness of materialism is so great, who can fight against it? And there is nobody there to teach them about true Judaism and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah. So instead of working to bring an end to the exile, they endeavor to lengthen it by strengthening their local Jewish communities. That was all well and good before God established the State of Israel, but now that we once again can live in our own Holy Land, strengthening Jewish life amongst the gentiles in American, France, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa, is darkness “mamash,” just like back in the days of Egypt when 80% of the Jews didn’t want to leave and follow Moses to Eretz Yisrael.