Bugged: Bo 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why are so many of us scared of animals much smaller than we are? What is it about insects in particular that make us so fearful?

Our Torah portion begins with the plague of locusts, a punishment that gives many otherwise-rational people the creeps:

The Pitch: “‘For if you refuse to let My people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts on your territory. They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the surviving remnant that was left to you after the hail; and they shall eat away all your trees that grow in the field. Moreover, they shall fill your palaces and the houses of all your courtiers and of all the Egyptians – something that neither your father nor fathers’ fathers have seen from the day they appeared on earth to this day.’ With that he turned and left Pharaoh’s presence.” – Exodus 10:4-6

Swing #1: “The hail had destroyed the trees. The locust would devour anything which would grow after the hail.” – Rashbam

Swing #2: “One way of approaching the problem of the Night of Watching is to notice that the last three plagues are plagues of darkness: the locusts ‘cover the surface of the land, so that no one can see the land’; the plague of darkness, which is palpable – ‘the darkness shall be felt … they did not see one another, and they could not stand up from a sitting position’; while the plague of the firstborn happens at midnight, and the word liela – ‘night’ – is repeated with a redundant and subliminal insistence.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus

Swing #3: “The eighth plague, locusts, serves as the catalyst for the Egyptians’ realization of God’s pervasive might. God’s strength magnifies the destructive potential of swarming locusts beyond all imagining or historical memory. Pharaoh is forced to summon Aaron and Moses, and to beseech their forgiveness before their God. … Though in the past, Pharaoh has pleaded for Moses’ intercession to lift the plagues, never before has he admitted to standing guilt before both God and Moses. This eighth plague of all-devouring locusts initiates a critical shift in the center of power, with Pharaoh beginning to recognize that his authority is meaningless before the might of God.” – Rabbi Lucy H.F. Dinner, from The Women’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Late-Inning Questions: The commentators above believe that the plague of the locusts is devastating not only because of the damage it inflicts, but also because of its timing; they recognize that it would not have been as effective had it been, say, the third plague. Instead, this plague makes sense as part of a progression of punishments. Have you ever wished to make an important point to someone else but been thwarted by bad timing? How good does it feel, on the other hand, when you get the timing just right?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Congratulations again to Emanu-El’s Sisterhood on an excellent Sisterhood Shabbat last Saturday. The 61 (!) service participants reminded all of us that our synagogue is filled with talent, and that congregational life is better when as many people as possible take part.

The Big Inning at the End: I admit that, as much as I struggle with my opinion of football, I will enjoy watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. And I will enjoy even more the aftermath of the game, when I remember that Spring Training is less than 10 days away.

Shabbat Shalom!