Bo - Nature Unleashed
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
In this week's Parsha, the last three plagues are detailed. Locust,
Darkness, and the Death of the First Born are the culminating display of
Hashem's (G-d's) mastery over nature and humankind. As explained in last
week's issue, the final plague, the Death of the First Born, stands apart
from all the other plagues. However, it makes sense that Hashem's displays
of mastery and power would be greater with each and every plague. In what
manner are Locust and Darkness a greater display of G-d's power than all
the preceding plagues?
The first 7 plagues appeared like changes in the natural order of nature.
Rivers shouldn't flow with blood. Frogs shouldn't leave the marshes and
invade homes. Lice are a nuisance, but they shouldn't cover the land. Wild
beasts should stay away from villages and cities. Animal diseases exist but
should be contained. Boils and lesions shouldn't affect everyone at the
same time, and hail should be non-existent in the desert. Yet, these events
occurred at Moshe's warning and command and were magnificent displays of
Hashem's mastery over water, land, animals, humans, and the atmosphere.
The plague of locust was different. Locust are a fact of life in the Middle
East, and are a documented and predictable occurrence. In our daily
davening we thank Hashem for "His wonders and miracles that are with us
daily". Nature is the greatest miracle possible, and the greatest display
of Hashem's mastery. However, the constancy of nature disguises the
magnificence of its miracle. Occasionally, natural disasters occur which
remind us of the awesomeness of Hashem's power, and his control. We take
for granted that rain will fall and be absorbed into the ground, drain into
the ocean, or evaporate into the atmosphere. Yet, when the rain continues
to come down and the ground is fully saturated; and the drains are on
overload, and the sun isn't shining; and bridges and streets are washed
away by the sheer volume and power of nature's fury; it reminds us that we
take for granted G-d's control over nature.
The locust that descended upon Egypt are referred to as the "great army of
Hashem". Locust are a natural and predictable event. However, when Hashem
unleashed the sheer volume of his "army", the world stood in awe of G-d's
mastery and control. It became self evident that it was the G-d of the Jews
who was responsible for the continued welfare and existence of the
universe. As it says in Yirmiyah 5:22, "That I have put the sands as a
boundary to the seas". We take for granted that the tides will flow in and
out, and that the moon will stay in its orbit around the earth. If one day
the moon should move a drop closer in its orbit the tides would swamp the
entire earth and drown all life. It is the command of Hashem that keeps the
seas contained within the boundaries of the sandy shores. The plagues were
intended to teach Jew and Egyptian that there is a Creator who maintains
the universe by setting limits to the power of nature. The swarm of locust
that swallowed Mitzrayim showed nature's power unleashed without the usual
and expected controls. Whereas the other plagues were changes in the
natural and expected order, the locust were natural, expected, but
uncontrolled. The locust forced Jew and Egyptian to acknowledge the miracle
of the natural, the miracle of the expected.
The plague of Darkness was unique in its own right. The very first thing
G-d created was the separation between light and darkness. Central to the
human psyche is the difference between day and night. Our fears and our
sense of security are closely linked to light and darkness. For three days
the darkness was so extreme that it became tangible. The darkness was so
oppressive that individuals were rooted to their spot and could not move
for the entire time. Imagine the living hell of being paralyzed in complete
darkness with the inevitable indignity that comes without proper hygiene.
Try to picture the growing hunger and thirst and the helplessness of not
being able to respond to the cries of children and their calls for help.
Try to imagine the all encompassing and terrifying thought that life had
ended and eternity was everything Dante had imagined it to be.
When Hashem suspended the normal workings of nature, the Egyptian realized
how vulnerable and fragile he was, and how dependent he was on the
Creator's benevolent control. Locust and darkness were Hashem's final
lessons before His ultimate display of power over life and death.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.