Parshot Bo:“And Moshe and Aharon went in unto Pharoah, and said…let My people
go, that they may serve Me….Else, if you refuse to let My people go,
behold, tomorrow will I bring locusts unto your border…”
We ask: Why did the Torah’s arranger of the parshiyot begin this parashah with the plague of locusts?
After all, it is not the Torah’s launch into what would eventually stretch out to ten plagues or makkot.
Locusts rank eighth out of ten. Even if we look to the Passover Haggadah for a clue, we come up empty.
In it, Rabbi Yehudah provides a mnemonic device to memorize all ten plagues, grouping them into three
sub-units (group 1 is blood, frogs, and lice; group 2 is wild beasts, pestilence, and boils; group 3 is hail,
locusts, darkness, and firstborn). Our parashah beginning with the third group’s second plague appears
arbitrary, and requires explanation.
To answer, it seems that the Torah’s arranger was anything but desultory. Here are two reasons that
explain why our parashah leads with locusts. From the eighth plague (locusts) onward, Pharoah and his
advisors began to fear God and His plagues before they struck. Until this juncture, dread registered after
they landed. However, from locusts until the tenth plague, Pharoah shook in his boots at the mere
mention of an imminent plague. Thus, when Moshe uttered a warning about locusts, Pharoah and his
council shuddered. Consequently, for plagues eight, nine, and ten, the moment Moshe spoke of trouble,
Egyptians sought to appease the prophet, singing a different tune.
Since locusts mark Pharoah’s new mindset, one that warmed up the monarch to the idea of Hebrews
leaving, our parashah leads with them. Parashat Bo, then, segues into the Hebrews’ exodus and
Here is the second reason that our parashah commences with locusts. It has to do with the root cause or
composition of locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn. Each shares a common, essential element:
air. Additionally, all three blackened the land. A verse concerning locusts says: “For they covered the
face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened.” A similar drabby description is documented for
the ninth plague of darkness: “And God said to Moshe, stretch out your hand…that there may be
darkness over the land of Egypt….” Finally, with the death of the firstborn, we learn of the H-hour. It was
midnight, per: “And it came to pass at midnight, that God smote all the firstborn…” Because of the
commonality of each of these three plagues, the Torah’s arranger saw fit to place them together as a
cohesive unit in our parashah.
Parashat Bo, First Aliyah, based on Abravanel’s World of Torah