“So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left
after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians — something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.'”
— Exodus 10: 3-6
An Oklahoma City rabbi said a swarm of locusts in Egypt and Israel has sparked renewed interest in Passover for some members of the local Jewish community.
And Rabbi Ovadia Goldman with the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning said that interest has spurred more people to sign up for Passover Seder events he will lead in coming weeks.
The eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown March 25. It commemorates the Israelites' redemption from Egypt.
The horde of locusts that crossed into Israel from neighboring Egypt on Monday, raised fears that Israel could be hit with a biblical plague ahead of the holiday. Goldman said the locust swarm has definitely raised eyebrows.
“I got a lot of calls about it. Some people found it humorous. Some people found it serious,” he said.
“There's no doubt about it, it has generated a lot of conversation.”
Israel sent out planes to spray pesticides over agricultural fields to prevent damage by the small swarm of about 2,000 locusts, said Dafna Yurista, a spokeswoman for the agriculture ministry. The ministry also set up an emergency hotline and asked Israelis to be vigilant in reporting locust sightings.
The locust alert comes ahead of the weeklong Passover festival. According to the Bible, a huge swarm of locusts was the eighth of 10 plagues God imposed on Egyptians to persuade Pharoah to free the ancient Hebrews from slavery. Pharaoh did not agree to let them go until after the 10th plague, the death of the first born in every Egyptian family.
Locusts can have a devastating effect on agriculture by quickly stripping crops. Farmers told Israeli media they were worried about a potential onslaught.
In Oklahoma City, Goldman said he has had to order more food for Chabad's community Passover Seder as more attendees are now expected at the center, 3000 W Hefner Road. He said news reports of the locusts have reminded people of the biblical plague that is part of the Israelites' redemption story.
Goldman said several people who haven't celebrated Passover since they were very young are planning to participate in the Seder, the ceremonial meal that includes special foods, prayers and ritual that help tell the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt.
“For me, one of the greatest things that Jewish people have is remembering when God brought us out of Egypt and here you have the story happening right in front of you — a modern-day plague,” he said.
“It's great that this is causing people to re-establish or reconnect to their roots.”
A modern-day plague
Goldman said many thoughts come to mind when he thinks about the recent locust swarm in the Middle East.
He said one of the first things he thought was that God is a lot more merciful these days than He was in biblical times because the locust plague God wrought on Pharaoh's Egypt was one of complete devastation, unlike the relatively limited damage from the recent locust invasion.
“This is God being nice actually. In the Bible, it says the locusts didn't leave anything behind, so this is obviously God holding himself back,” Goldman said.
Also, the rabbi said in a kabbalistic perspective, locusts represent intelligence and the human mind. Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish tradition, is Jewish mysticism.
Goldman said viewed through the lens of Kabbalah, when the locusts plague devastated Egypt in biblical times, they left the land with nothing but intellect and logic.
In other words, the swarm left the biblical Egyptians bereft of the morals and ethical values that come with spirituality, he said.
“Spiritually, that's what intellect and logic can do if it's not combined with a spirituality and a recognition that there's a Godlike super-being that runs that world,” he said.
“We look at the human mind as one of the most powerful gifts that God gave us, but at the end of the day, it has its limitations.”
Meanwhile, Goldman said it is important to note the reason God brought plagues upon humanity in ancient times.
“God uses natural moments like this to move us and inspire us beyond our own sphere,” he said.
“All of us who hear about it (locust swarm), it behooves us to reassess who we worship and to remember that at the end of the day, there are things that are way out of human control — that there's a higher power in this universe.”
CONTRIBUTING: The Associated Press