Shabbat Parashat Bo| 5764
A Lot of LocustHarav Yosef Carmel
When the Torah describes the intensity of the plague of locust, we find the following expression: “…before it there was not such locust as this, and afterward it will not be so” (Shemot 10:14). The early commentators immediately ask about the apparent contradiction from the book of Yoel, who describes the plague in his time as, “like it, there never was in history, and afterward it will not repeat itself” (2:2).
Rashi answers that each plague was unparalleled in a different way. The pasuk in Yoel mentions three different varieties of locust, and between the three of them, the plague was the most intense. However, in regard to arbeh, the main strain of locust, the plague at the time of Moshe was unrivaled. However, Rashi’s explanation is difficult, as the Ramban points out, because the p’sukim in Tehillim (78:46; 105:34), which describe the plague in Moshe’s time, also mention a variety of types of locust.
The Ramban, therefore, brings his own explanation. Picking up on the stress of the pasuk in our parasha that the locust were within the boundaries of Egypt, he says that the plague in Moshe’s time was the most severe in history in that country, but that other lands might surpass it. It is possible that Egypt is naturally less susceptible to locust, which usually come at a time when there is a drought. Because of the Nile, Egypt is less susceptible to those circumstances, and the number of locust in Moshe’s time will never be repeated. The plague in Yoel’s time would be the overall biggest of all times.
We cannot conclude without reconciling Rashi’s explanation. The Gur Aryeh and Mizrachi (ad loc.) explain that Rashi was well aware that Moshe’s plague contained different types of locust, but that it was predominantly of arbeh, with a smattering of other types. In Yoel, the plague consisted of comparable populations of arbeh, yelek, and chasil, a phenomenon which made it worthy of Yoel’s statement that it was unparalleled in the history of the world.
A final explanation can be understood from a few additional words, found in Rashi’s commentary on Yoel (ad loc.). There he adds that Yoel’s plague was unique in that the species came this after that, in other words, in successive waves. Moshe’s plague was indeed the largest one in history, but the ecological devastation at the time of Yoel was unique, in that after one plague came and darkened the day, it was followed by yet another and yet another attack.
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