January 12, 2016
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1004, Bo, Parsha Thought


The eighth plague, the locusts, was arguably the most devastating plague of all, after the plague of the firstborn. When an agrarian society has its crops consumed by locusts, it faces mass starvation with deadly results. No other plague had the potential to wipe out as many people as this one.

When Moshe warned Pharaoh of this impending plague he described it thus:

“For if you refuse to let them go, then tomorrow I am going to bring a swarm of locusts into your border. It will obscure the view of the earth and no one will be able to see the earth.” This translation follows the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra, who explain that the words “no one will be able to see the earth” refers to the people.

However, the classic commentator, Kli Yakar, reads a deeper meaning into this text, actually translating it more literally. When one reads this verse in the original Hebrew, its literal rendition yields a very different result: The locusts themselves will not be able to see the earth they are consuming!

This translation, when taken at face value, appears to be bizarre. One can easily convey the devastating nature of the plague by stating that no person would be able to see the earth because it would be covered with locusts. This clearly describes the magnitude of the plague. However, what value is there in the knowledge that the locusts couldn’t see the earth? How does that add to our understanding of the plague?

Kli Yakar’s answer is that when people cannot see the food they are consuming their hunger will not be satisfied. This premise is based on the Biblical description of the Manna as food of affliction. No matter how nourishing the Divine food was, the people who consumed it remained hungry. The Talmud explains that when we cannot see what we are eating, we do not feel satiated. This is also one of the reasons we light the candles for Shabbos. One of the commandments associated with Shabbos is to enjoy it by eating special Shabbos food. We cannot fully appreciate and enjoy the food in the dark.

Based on this premise, the Kli Yakar concludes that the locust’s inability to see the earth they were consuming actually magnified the effects of the plague. Due to their blindness they would devour the vegetation of Egypt ravenously. They would leave nothing, since no matter how much they ate they would not be sated. Because they would not be satisfied with what they ate outdoors, they would even enter the houses to find food there.

That is all well and good, but we must still probe for the deeper significance of the locusts not being able to see the earth and how it can apply to our understanding of the process of the Exodus.


The Ten Plagues were not just punishment for Pharaoh and the Egyptian people for their cruel enslavement of the children of Israel. The Ten Plagues were also intended to shatter the wall that separated the reality of G-d’s existence and the distorted view of reality held by Egyptian culture. The Ten Plagues were intended to impress upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians of G-d’s abiding love for the Jewish people, whom He characterized as “My firstborn son.”

In truth, the Ten Plagues were also intended for the Jewish people, to prepare them for their Exodus and for the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Moreover, these Ten Plagues have something to teach us as well. When we probe beneath their surface we will discover a message that will prepare us for our liberation from this Exile.  It will do so by removing the obstructions that exist between G-d’s reality and our exile-tainted and distorted perception of reality.

In light of the above, we must try to understand what we can learn from the plague of locusts, particularly from the fact that the locusts themselves were blinded and could not see the earth they were eating from.


The word for locust in Hebrew is arbeh. This word can also be found in the Torah in several of G-d’s blessings as in, “I will multiply your seed.” The very word that represents one of nature’s greatest curses, threatening the very lifeblood of a country, is also the word that speaks of extraordinary proliferation of life.

Moreover, the word arbeh has the same numerical value as Yitzchak¸ the second Patriarch.

What is the connection between Yitzchak and proliferation? Isn’t Yitzchak associated with the trait of G’vura, which means judgment, constriction and restriction? One would imagine g’vura is the very opposite of proliferation and growth.

The Rebbe (Toras Menachem 5742) sheds light on this matter by referring to a Talmudic statement (Shabbos 89b) that in the Messianic Era, we will refer to Yitzchak, exclusively, as our father.

At first glance, this seems rather strange inasmuch as we always refer to all three Patriarchs as our fathers.

Furthermore, the Talmud describes Yitzchak as the one who will defend the Jewish nation while Abraham and Jacob will not! This too is rather counterintuitive in light of the fact that Abraham personifies the attribute of kindness and Jacob embodies the trait of compassion. Yet, it is Yitzchak who represents the attribute of g’vura-judgment who will mount the most strident defense of even the most recalcitrant Jews!

The answer lies in the paradoxical nature of g’vura. On the one hand, it limits the flow of chesed-kindness. On the other hand, g’vura actually means strength. A g’vura personality, in fact, uses extraordinary powers to restrict and discipline himself precisely because he is strong.  When, however, there is a need to unleash unbridled fountains of Divine energy, the Yitzchak/g’vura personality generates and releases far more potent forces of kindness than his chesed counterpart.

A simple analogy illustrates this point. G’vura relative to the flow of chesed is what a dam is relative to the flow of a river. Initially, it blocks the full force of the river and allows only as much water as is desired to trickle through the obstruction.  However, when enough water accumulates it pushes the dam aside and an extraordinary torrent of water is unleashed that carries an exponentially greater volume along with the dam itself. Such is the power of g’vura. 


In the Messianic Age, the Rebbe explains, we will not just be the beneficiaries of the conventional kindness and compassion that are associated with Abraham and Jacob. Rather the full force of Divine beneficence will break through all the obstructions that are the product of our shortcomings and the stifling and inhibiting influence of Galus.

Thus, in the Messianic Age, it will be Yitzchak’s power, specifically, that will remove all the obstacles and allow the proliferation of positive energy to cover the earth with a spiritual sea.


We can now return to the plague of locust-arbeh. While this plague attacked the agricultural infrastructure of Egypt in the most physical sense, it also unleashed the potential for the positive power of arbeh to enter the world. 

We can now reinterpret the verse which describes the way the locusts covered the earth. One can draw a parallel between this covering of the earth and the one described in Isaiah, “And the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.”

But, how do we apply the part of the locusts themselves not being able to see the earth which, as the Kli Yakar explained, provoked their ravenous appetite.

As was mentioned above, when the obstructive nature of the dam-g’vura causes the water to accumulate, not only does it ultimately break through the obstruction with incredible force, it takes the dam with it.

Similarly, when the dynamic of Geula-Redemption is ready to unfold, as it is today, not only does it unleash extraordinary force, it also takes the dam with it. The obstruction itself first causes the intense power to develop and then it becomes a part of the unprecedented flow.

When this occurs, even the heretofore negative features of Galus can no longer “see the earth.” All humanity then develops a ravenous thirst and hunger for G-dliness. We consume every bit of G-dly awareness that can be accessed outside in the “field.” This means that we see G-dliness in every blade of grass and everything that exists regardless of its corporeal nature. 


However, the arbeh’s appetite is not satisfied. We then look for more overt G-dly expression in the “houses of the Egyptians.” This is an allusion to the Bais HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which will be built with the efforts that we made here in the Diaspora to create miniature Sanctuaries in our synagogues, Houses of Torah Study and our own homes. These Sanctuaries, the Talmud relates, will be reestablished in Jerusalem and attached to the Bais HaMikdash!  There will be an explosion of G-dly knowledge and awareness that will mirror the physical delights that will proliferate in the Messianic Age.

How does one prepare for this age of unprecedented goodness?

When we whet our appetite to learn more of Torah and never quench our thirst or satisfy our hunger, we prepare for the age of unlimited knowledge. This is especially true when we study the spiritual dimension of Torah, which focuses on revealing the Divine in the physical world and to see things from a Divine perspective which doesn’t see the Earth as an existence independent of G-d.

Our generation has been inundated by an unprecedented explosion of Torah knowledge. We have already been given a taste of what is to come. Let us plunge into this sea of knowledge and with that experience prepare ourselves for the ultimate and imminent Age of Arbeh.  

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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