Plagues from Within

BY RABBI ELIEZER KASHTIEL

Aside from damaging the Egyptians’ fields, the arbeh, the locust, had two additional targets: their land and their homes. The Torah relates that the arbeh “covered the surface of the entire land, and the land was darkened” (Shemot 10:15). In addition, the locusts invaded the Egyptians’ homes. 

The phenomenon of darkness caused by an infestation of locusts also appears in Sefer Yoel. The navi describes an invasion of locusts as “a day of darkness and gloom.” Yoel also describes an extensive process of teshuva that would lead Hashem to remove the locusts: “וְאֶת הַצְּפוֹנִי אַרְחִיק מֵעֲלֵיכֶם, I will remove the tzefoni from you” (Yoel 2:20).

The navi refers to the locusts as the tzefoni – literally “the one from the north” – because the swarms of locusts would be blown into the land by the northern wind. However, the Gemara interprets this prophecy metaphorically, suggesting that the term tzefoni alludes to the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, which is tzafun (hidden) within a person’s heart (Sukkah 52a). Locusts are symbolic of the yetzer hara because their entire existence revolves around self-absorbed exploitation. This trait creates a state of spiritual darkness that obscures the universal perspective, with every individual being concerned only about his own interests and ignoring the needs of others.

The Midrash states that the locusts descended upon the faces of the Egyptians and gouged out their eyes (Midrash HaGadol, Shemot 10:14). This is a poetic description of how a person who is preoccupied with selfish acquisition becomes myopic, losing sight of the needs or suffering of others. In fact, the verse states that the arbeh covered the ayin (eye) of the land. The materialistic perspective that focuses exclusively on one’s own personal interests shrouds a society in darkness and brings death to the world. 

The moral darkness brought by the arbeh developed further and solidified in the following plague, choshech, darkness. There, the Torah relates: “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand over the heavens, and let there be darkness over the land of Egypt, and let the darkness become solid…’ No man saw his brother… for three days, but for all of Bnei Yisrael there was light in their dwellings” (Shemot 10:21–23).

The Sages infer from these verses that the darkness in Egypt was a solid, tangible substance. The Midrash adds that it had the thickness of a golden dinar coin (Shemot Rabbah 14:1). There is a message in this comparison: A life that revolves around acquisition of the dinar creates palpable darkness. When money is the focus of a person’s life, he will be incapable of recognizing the needs of anyone else, just as the Egyptians could not see one another during this plague.

The plagues of arbeh and choshech both struck the homes of the Egyptians, where they closeted themselves and shut out the rest of the world, reflecting their self-absorption. Those homes would again be the focal point of the final plague, makkat bechorot. During that plague, there was a stark contrast between the homes of the Egyptians and those of the Jews. The Torah states that “He struck Egypt but He spared our homes” (Shemot 12:27).

On that fateful night, the Jewish homes were identified by the blood of the korban Pesach that had been placed on the doorposts, in a symbolic act that showed that the gateway to the Jewish home is self-sacrifice for Divine values. Also, Bnei Yisrael were instructed that if a household did not have enough members for its own korban, the family should bring a joint korban along with “his neighbor who is close to his house” (Shemot 12:4). The Torah teaches us how to create a home that accommodates and unifies people, that leads us to see beyond ourselves. This idea is symbolized by the korban Pesach, which must be consumed in groups rather than by individuals. This is the type of home that has the power to drive away the yetzer hara and to eradicate the arrogance and selfishness that it cultivates. 

 

● Translation: R. Dovid Sussman

● Editing and adaption: R. Yitzchak Twersky, Academic Language Experts

 

Siman Labanim is a ground-breaking English translation of Rav Kashtiel’s popular collection of shiurim on the weekly parasha. With this publication, his uplifting writings are accessible to a wider audience. Rav Kashtiel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the post-army program of Bnei David in Eli, is the author of many volumes of parshanut on the Tanach and has long been one of the most prominent Religious Zionist voices in Israel today. If you wish to purchase the sefarim, please contact Maura Ruskin at +972-523826844.

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