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Parshas Bo - Humility

By: Rav Dov Lipman

The Parsha begins with G-d telling Moshe to go to Pharaoh but it does not indicate what Moshe was to tell him.  Two verses later we find Moshe and Aharon standing before Pharaoh saying, “Thus said Hashem the G-d of the Hebrews…” and they warn of the plague of locusts. Why is the information which G-d conveyed omitted when He actually spoke to Moshe? 

The Ramban quotes a Midrash which recognizes an allusion to the locusts in the words of G-d which are recorded in this opening section of the Parsha when He says, “In order that you should relate to the ears of your children and your grandchildren how I mocked Egypt…”  This hints at locusts as it is stated in the Navi, Yoel (1:3-4), “Tell your children about it, and your children to their children…what remained from the cutting locust....   

While this is an interesting point, the Torah simply hinting to the plague is a very different approach from the rest of the plagues. We need to understand why the plague of locusts is taught with this aberration from the other plagues.

The Ramban, himself, is not bothered by this question since it is self-evident that G-d instructed Moshe to warn the Egyptians regarding the locusts and the Torah’s narrative  was simply briefer than at other times  This, he explains, is similar to the plague of hail where G-d’s words to Moshe are recorded but Moshe’s actual warning to Pharaoh is not mentioned by the Torah.  Once again, we must ask why the plague of locusts is the one in which the Torah omits G-d’s words to Moshe? 

Rav Hirsch phrases the question a bit more strongly.  He states:

“Usually, for brevity’s sake, we are told of the mission that Moshe was given to Pharaoh and then at once, of the beginning of the plague, without bothering to tell us that Moshe had first gone to Pharaoh and spoken to him in the name of G-d, as this was self understood.  Here it is the reverse.  We only get to know what the mission was, when we are told of it being carried out.”

In other words, not only is G-d’s command to Moshe omitted here, but the Torah gives us more detailed information about Moshe’s encounter with Pharaoh than it usually does.  Why?

Through Rav Hirsch’s answer we arrive at an explanation for the Ramban as well.  He suggests that the appearance of Moshe before Pharaoh is the Torah’s focus since there was a special message to Pharaoh beyond what he was told prior to the other plagues.  Moshe and Aharon conveyed to Pharaoh, “For how long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” (10:3)

We have now zeroed in on a unique aspect about the plague of locusts.  This uniqueness is the reason why the Torah does not focus on G-d’s words to Moshe.  Instead, it describes in greater detail the words of Moshe to Pharaoh.  There is a quality about locusts which lends itself to a discussion of the humbling of Pharaoh and the employment of specific words of mussar to him. 

Perhaps this uniqueness can also answer another question relevant to the beginning of this week’s Parsha.  The Torah does relate that prior to the onset of the locusts G-d said to Moshe,  “And in order that you should relate to the ears of your children and your grandchildren how I mocked Egypt…”   Why are these words taught regarding the plague of locusts, exclusively, and not of the other plagues?  We can suggest that among all the plagues, the one which teaches the critical trait of humility is the one which we want to emphasize to our children since we can all incorporate that message into our lives.

The question we now must answer is how the plague of locusts teaches Pharaoh humility more than the others?

The Kli Yakar, while dealing with a number of questions, including some which we have asked, discusses the plague of hail and locusts.  He points to the fact that regarding these two plagues the Torah relates that G-d not only hardens the heart of Pharaoh but also of his people.  Why?  He answers that this was the one plague where the commoners were hit harder than the king.  We can assume that the king had crops stored away to insure that he would not starve in case of a famine.  Thus, the destruction of the crops through the hail and the locusts would not affect him as much as it would the commoners.  Therefore, they are brought into the picture during the warnings as well.  The Kli Yakar then uses this concept to answer several of his questions.

Using the Kli Yakar’s observation, we can understand why the plague of locusts is the vehicle for teaching Pharaoh about humility.  Pharaoh was a person who portrayed himself to the masses as a Divine being.  Yechezel teaches (29:3) that Pharaoh said, “The Nile is mine and I made it for myself.”   The Midrash teaches (Shemos Rabbah 8:2) that “Pharaoh was one of the four people who made themselves into gods.”  Rav Hirsch describes (Collected Writings Volume I p. 32) that one can go to Egypt today and “see the Pharaohs depicted on their monuments worshipping god-images of themselves.”   We can only imagine how difficult it was for this man, to whom his subjects turned for all of their needs, and who had the Nile to provide for those needs was now helpless because of these plagues which destroyed the crops.  He had food for himself but he could not provide for his suffering people during these plagues.  This certainly exposed Pharaoh as a mortal being rather than a god.  Hail might have proven this to some degree but there were remaining crops in the fields after the hail.  The locusts wiped everything out and Pharaoh was helpless and humbled by his total inability to help his people.  Thus, the focus of the warnings for the locusts is not on what G-d told Moshe but, rather, on the confrontation between Moshe and Pharaoh when the purpose and of this plague and the mussar it represented was driven home.


We now also understand why this particular plague would be the one which would be a focus of our teachings to our children.  One of the primary lessons we need to convey to our children is how dependent they are on G-d.  The moment an individual begins to believe that he can accomplish anything without G-d he is in great danger of veering from the proper path in life.  The plague of locusts displayed that even the most powerful and “godlike” person in the world was exposed as a mortal man with all the human limitations.  That message must penetrate the minds and hearts of our children and be reinforced within ourselves as we strive to remove the barriers which prevent us from serving G-d in the proper way.