Darkness, the ninth plague that G-d sent upon the Egyptians was different from all the other plagues insofar as there was nothing that was created differently or altered – darkness just descended.
The Medrash gives us two reasons why G-d brought the plague of darkness upon the Egyptians. 1) There were Jews in Egypt who did not want to leave Egypt. They felt comfortable assimilated in the Egyptian culture and may even have had plans to prevent the other Jews from leaving. To avoid this from happening, G-d had them die during the plague of darkness so that the Egyptians would not notice their death, otherwise they would claim, “See, the Jews are being punished as well.” The Jews were also able to bury these dead during this time.
2) G-d had prophetically promised our forefather Avraham that after his descendants experienced a difficult servitude (in Egypt) they would leave with great wealth. The plague of darkness gave the Jews the opportunity to search the homes of the Egyptian taskmasters and see the wealth they amassed over the years. The special aura and illumination that the Jews experienced during this time gave them the ability to see the wealth that was concealed and also see riches hidden by the ancestors of the Egyptians that were long forgotten.
The Torah tells us that there were two three day periods of darkness. The first three days consisted of a total darkness which allowed the Egyptians to move about, but without them knowing where they were going. The second three days, the darkness was not just an absence of light; it was so thick, the Egyptians were not able to move from the position they were in when this phase of the plague settled in.
The Medrash expounds and tells us that the darkness of hell fell upon the Egyptians. They imagined monsters, horrible creatures and vicious animals, and it immobilized them.
The Jews could have left the Egyptians to die from starvation. However, the famous Netziv says, they were compassionate and fed the Egyptians, sustaining them during these days.
This Chesed that the Jews afforded the Egyptians during the plague of darkness, and because of the honesty and integrity the Jews displayed by not taking any of the Egyptians’ possessions during the darkness, created a momentary friendship towards the Jews, causing the Egyptians to give the Jews their riches – which they duly deserved after not having being paid for 116 years of servitude.
The Rokeach says the following: When the wicked Haman considered a day for the genocide of the Jews, he drew lots. When it fell in the month of Adar, he was very excited. After all, the Jewish leader Moshe died on the seventh of the month of Adar; little did he know that it was Moshe’s birthday as well.
Haman did not choose the seventh of Adar for his plan, rather, he chose, the thirteenth day of Adar for the extermination of the Jews, which was the day they got up from Moshe’s Shiva – mourning period which he felt was more significant for his plan. Haman also knew that the thirteenth of Adar is when the wicked Jews died in the plague of darkness in Egypt and felt the day carried an element of doom for the Jews.
It is interesting that elements within the Purim story correlate to what happened during the plague of darkness.
Haman chose the thirteenth day of Adar to kill the Jews which was the same day the Jews died in Egypt; his own ten sons were killed on that same day.
Haman thought darkness was an auspicious time, yet, the Torah captures the Jews’ state during the plague of darkness, “And to all the Jews there was Ohr – light in all their dwellings.” The Megilla relates that after the Jews salvation, “To the Jews there was Ohr- light.” Our Sages tell us that the light refers to the special illumination of Torah.
During the plague of darkness the Jews did not take any of the Egyptians’ possessions. The Megilla states that when the Jews defended themselves and were victorious, they did not take any part of the loot or property of the Persians.
The Chidushai Harim, the Rebbe of the Chasidic dynasty of Ger, homiletically explains the Torah’s description of the Egyptian’s state within the plague of darkness, “Each person didn’t see his brother.” The ultimate darkness is when a person does not recognize the needs of his fellow to offer assistance. In contrast, the Torah tells us that despite the darkness the Egyptians were experiencing, the Jews were completely enveloped by Ohr – brightness. G-d bestowed upon the Jews the ability that our vision is clear so we can notice and see if our brethren are in need and then take action to be of assistance!