Just imagine sitting on the ground with your children after a long day of work, sand between your toes, looking up at the sky and seeing a dark, ominous cloud heading your way. It’s moving fast … so fast you can hear it buzzing louder and louder as it draws near.
You wrap your arms around your kids, protecting them from this terrifying blackness overhead. It is a swarm of locusts, four miles long and two miles high and it’s almost here.
This feels biblical. And it has been in the past — as locusts swarmed Egypt in this week’s Torah portion. But the story above is a firsthand account from Argentina in 2016 as the worst infestation of locusts in more than 60 years destroyed millions of acres of farmland across the country.
Parshat Bo: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Jeremiah 46:13-28.
We think of the plagues as things of the past — Divine punishment intended to persuade our enslavers to free our ancestors as they began an exhaustive journey toward the Promised Land. Yet today our world is wrought with natural phenomena that feel overwhelmingly Divine. There are hurricanes, extreme cold spells, tornadoes and wildfires. There are superbugs, droughts, crop failures and species extinction.
The plagues of the Torah did not just affect the Egyptians. Our people were the most vulnerable in the land: hungry, overworked and destitute. When the waters of the Nile turned to blood and the livestock died and darkness fell and hail rained down from the heavens, the Israelites suffered alongside their oppressors. They may have felt the plagues even more keenly than their Egyptian neighbors living in safe, sturdy homes, not to mention palaces.
In our world today, it is often the most vulnerable who feel the effects of the choices of others. When corporations put financial gain over the health of our planet and governments fail to act, when food systems and use of land change the livability of our climate, the poorest among us suffer the most.
Let us learn from the Torah, using our strength to stand up for others. Let us learn from the Torah and consider how our actions affect the lives of those around us. Let us learn from the Torah and protect God’s creation.
Jennifer Lader is a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.