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The recent infestation of Egypt, Jordan and parts of Israel by swarms of locusts serves to remind us of our biblical heritage. In our modern-day, technologically advanced world, crop duster airplanes loaded with pesticides spray the advancing horde of locusts and usually are quite successful in exterminating them before they destroy all of the crops in their path. In biblical days, there was no such defense available against an invasion of locusts. Locust invasions were truly seen then as plagues that could destroy a country's economy and bring the population to the brink of starvation. The invasion of Egypt by hordes of locusts at the command of Moshe was counted as one of the ten plagues that the Lord visited upon the Egyptians to force them to free their Israelite slaves. The locusts destroyed what remained of Egyptian agriculture after the destruction of the hailstorm that preceded the arrival of the locust swarm. Having once been caught myself in a locust swarm while driving through Kansas, I can personally attest to the fearsome nature of this plague. The experience almost made me feel sympathetic to the ancient Egyptian slave masters - but only almost. The Torah definitely classifies locust swarms as not just a natural event but rather as a plague, a punishment, an expression of Heaven's displeasure with human behavior, if you will.

Another great locust plague is recorded in the Bible. It refers to an enormous swarm of locusts that smote the Land of Israel in First Temple times. The event is recorded for us in the book of the prophet Yoel. The rabbis taught us that this later plague of locusts was even more fearsome than the one that struck the Egyptians in the time of Moshe. The locust plague of Yoel consisted of numerous different forms and species of locusts while the plague in Egypt was of only one type of locust. There are at least five different words in Hebrew that are translated into English as "locust." In reality, each of these Hebrew words refers to a precise and distinct type or specie of the locust family. In one of the prayers of Hoshana Rabah, the seventh day of Succot, we ask to be delivered during the coming year from the plague of locusts and all of the different species of locusts are enumerated in that prayer. During the time of Yoel, the prophet was able to pinpoint for Israel the cause, the failure in its national behavior, which brought on the locust plague. Not being favored with prophet in our time, we are reduced to spraying the advancing locusts with poison, thus treating the symptom without being able to deal with the underlying cause. Jewish tradition always saw and still sees so-called "natural disasters" as messages being sent to humans from up above. Judaism does not believe in a world of random events - even natural ones. Thus the recent locust plague undoubtedly has something to tell us. I therefore believe that the minimum lesson to be derived is to study the book of Yoel and take to heart its recommendations for our personal and national improvement in faith and behavior.

The Land of Israel is a place always in danger of "natural disasters." It is dependent upon a relatively short rainy season to store a year's supply of water. It sits on major faults in the earth, which makes it prone to seismic shocks if not major earthquakes, God forbid. Sandstorms and swamps are also its lot. And we are now witness to our vulnerability to locusts. The Bible told us all of this in advance. The Land of Israel is the land "where the eyes of the Lord your God are affixed upon it from the beginning of the year till the end of the year." Thus the land itself, its topography and location, its scarcity of natural resources and its constant exposure to possible natural disasters, serves as a continual reminder of the presence here of the God of Israel and His interest in us. The swarms of locusts that recently visited us should serve to remind us of previous times here in the land, of our exodus from Egyptian bondage, and above all else of the bedrock faith of Judaism in the will of the Creator Who has fashioned us all.

Berel Wein

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