Only the Egyptians were in the Dark

In Parshat Bo, Shmot 10:21-23 we read: “God said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand toward the sky and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt. The darkness will be tangible. Moshe stretched out his hand toward the sky and there was total darkness in the entire land of Egypt for three days. Man could not see his fellow man, nor could anyone rise from his place for three days. But all of B’nai Yisrael had light in their dwellings.”


How did the plague of darkness work? Did the Egyptians try to light candles? Would candles have worked? Were B’nai Yisrael able to see throughout Egypt or only in Goshen?


According to Ramban, the darkness was not a mere absence of sunlight, it was a thick darkness (as it says in sentence 22, choshech afeilah), a thick cloud that came down from heaven. That is why it says in sentence 21, “neteh yadcha al hashamayim”, “stretch out your hand toward heaven” to bring down the darkness which would extinguish every light, just as in all deep caverns and in all extremely dark places where light cannot last as it is swallowed up in the density of the thick darkness.


Chizkuni states that B’nai Yisrael had light everywhere, not just in Goshen, as Goshen is not specifically mentioned here.


It says in Shmot Raba 14:3 that the plague of darkness was different from the other plagues. If a member of B’nai Yisrael would be in the home of an Egyptian anywhere in Egypt, they would have light there too.


Ibn Ezra disagrees with the idea that candles would not have worked for the Egyptians. He says that there was no sunlight but they were able to see by lighting candles.


Anyone who has ever been in a blackout or who has had a power failure knows how difficult it can be, even if we are able to light candles or use a flashlight.


We see from here that whether they were able to light a candle or not is not really the issue. The point is that being in the dark can be very difficult and even though darkness may occur naturally at some points, the fact that B’nai Yisrael were able to see shows that it was a plague that was specifically directed at the Egyptians.