This week’s parasha starts with a command to Moshe:
There’s something that bothers Rashi: ה׳ just tells Moshe to go to Pharaoh, but not what to do when he gets there:
But that brings up the question of what does כי אני הכבדתי את לבו mean? “Go and warn Pharaoh, because he won’t listen”? Rashi assumes we know that כי has multiple meanings:
So ה׳ is saying, “Go warn him, despite the fact that he will not listen, because I am going to do more signs for you (Moshe) to tell your children”.
The plagues from here on are for Israel’s sake, not Egypt’s. That may explain why we divide the parshiot this way, with 7 plagues last week and 3 this week. Last week was the climax of the plagues aimed at Egypt:
And it was in hail that the Egyptians had to make a choice:
And this is the plague with all the excitement and special effects:
And Pharaoh fails the test:
Here, וַיַּכְבֵּד לבו, he hardens his own heart. In our parasha, אני הכבדתי את לבו. From now on, he is just a meat puppet for ה׳'s drama.
This is the first time we hear about a commandment to tell the story of the Exodus.
and we are supposed to תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך את אשר התעללתי במצרים. What is התעללתי?
עולל generally means “develop”, “cause to happen” (from the root על). In medieval Jewish philosophy, עִלָה וְעָלוּל means “cause and effect”. Many מפרשים translate התעללתי as “that I did”. But the Midrash connects it to a different sort of “development”, the immature plant:
The locusts are just adding insult to injury. It’s like the movie trope where a character is humiliated, loses their job, their home, their family, and is lying in the street, only to look down and see a dog urinating on him. It’s almost a joke.
And that’s exactly how Rashi reads it:
ה׳ is just toying with the Egyptians. ארבה is a joke.
Abarbanel points out that the Torah goes out of its way to minimize the miraculous nature of ארבה. Locust swarms happen all the time, and this was basically a natural phenomenon:
The Bechor Shor says that this is connected to the commandment to tell the story. This is a plague that people can relate to (at least those living in agricultural societies):
Why does this matter? I think that the message is למען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך. Plagues are scary. יציאת מצרים is scary. We have to at least introduce the story with something that kids can relate to. Nowadays, the plague that we illustrate for the kids is צפרדע:
But really that’s not right. צפרדע was more than frogs and in fact was terrifying:
For thousands of years, it was grasshoppers that were fun:
We’ve changed that since we can’t deal with bugs and have no experience with locust swarms. But the idea remains the same.