Table Talk: Bo
I get nervous reading about the locusts. It reminds me of the locusts in Baltimore that would appear every 17 years, especially when they were first building the current yeshiva campus. I do not want to even imagine what it was like for the Egyptians. Here are some offerings so you can share those feelings with me:
The Zohar (Volume 2: 32b) on this week’s portion opens with an interesting perspective on Locusts and Shofar! “Rabbi Yehuda opened (his discussion on this portion) ‘Happy is the people who know the shout of joy (Teruah); O God, they walk in the light of Your presence.’ (Psalms 89:16) How essential for people to walk in the ways of the blessed Holy One and observe the commandments of Torah, so that thereby they may attain the world that is coming and be delivered from all accusations above and below! For just as there are accusers in the world below, so there are accusers above, looming over human beings.”
Who are these accusers of the world below? Some understand the Zohar to be describing demonic forces that roam the world, enticing and accusing human beings. The Mishna in Avot (Chapters of Our Fathers 4:11) “Rabbi Eliezer son of Jacob says, ‘Whoever performs one Mitzvah acquires one advocate, and whoever commits one transgression acquires one accuser.’”
The Mikdash Melech explains that this portion began on Rosh Hashanah and Moses feared the accusations of Satan and hesitated to confront Pharaoh.
Is there a connection between the noise of the locusts and the sound of the Shofar?
The Midrash understands the noise of the locusts as their song of praise of the Creator. Their song was joy was only bothersome noise to the Egyptians. How would you apply that idea to the joyous sound of Shofar?
Rashi has a problem. “Before it there never was a locust swarm like it, and after it there will not be its equal.” (Exodus 10:14) The prophet Joel opens his book by asking about a plague of locusts; “Was there ever such a thing in your days or in the days of your forefathers?” (Joel 1:2) Joel claims that the plague of locusts in his time was worse than the plague of this week’s portion. Rashi answers one way and Nachmanides takes a different approach. Who are Rashi and Nachmanides addressing?
It has been my experience that answers to such questions are pejoratively defined as apologetics. I also wonder whether the Egyptians, 1,000 years after the plague of locusts would have grabbed onto Joel’s claim to retroactively criticize Moses’ claim. Imagine an Egyptian in 500 BCE returning from a college history class on the period of the Ten Plagues, turning on his radio and hearing Joel’s prophecy as it was reported around the world. Would our young Egyptian really claim that the Locusts could not have been from God because a prophet 1,000 years later implied that the locusts of his time were worse? Would it have mattered? There were 9 other plagues and the Jews were free. Or, do people look for any weakness and focus on that one point?
God commanded Moses and Aaron to “Come to Pharaoh”, rather than to “Go” because he wanted the two to treat Pharaoh with the respect due a king. Yet, the two brothers turn their backs to Pharaoh and storm out without waiting for a response? What happened?