Thursday, February 09, 2006

parshat Bo`: All Quiet on the Kushite Front

There is a fun midrash in parshat Bo`, relating to the plague of locusts. The pasuk states {Shemot 10:14}:

יד וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה, עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיָּנַח, בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם: כָּבֵד מְאֹד--לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ, וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן. 14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the borders of Egypt; very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

Kush, labelled Nubia on this map, shares a border with Egypt.

The midrash states that the plague of locusts stopped a long-running war/border dispute with Kush. Kush claimed certain areas as their own, and Egpyt claimed those same areas as there own. Since Moshe said that the plague of locusts would affect Egypt, and only Egypt, where
the locusts landed was clearly Egyptian territory, and where the locusts did not land was clearly Kushite territory.

How is this derived from the pasuk?

Well, the pasuk states וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ .מִצְרַיִם Thus we know that the locusts are all over Egypt. What then does וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם come to tell us? This is perhaps the first point.

We might say that וַיַּעַל means they ascended in the air, flying throughout Egypt, and informs us of their descent to and settling upon the ground. Alternatively, we could say that the extra וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם is just asking for midrashic interpretation.

Secondly, there is a distinction between עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם in the first phrase and בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם. Especially if one reads the pasuk hyper-literally (and thus, midrashically), the first suggests the entire area of Egypt, while the second only suggests the border area. It actually depends upon how one reads the bet of בְּכֹל - does this mean within the borders of Egypt, which then means the entire area of Egypt, or does it mean in/on the borders of Egypt, which is a narrow line?

Finally, וַיָּנַח can be taken, as it is on a peshat level, to mean that the locusts settled/rested. Alternatively, it can be taken as reflexive - the borders rested/quieted, or causative - it caused the borders to rest/become quiet. This can be quiet from battle, or rest from its previous state of constant shift from one country to the other.

And what caused this resting in/of the borders, as described in וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם? Exactly what is described at the start of the pasuk: וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ .מִצְרַיִם - that the locusts settled on all of Egypt, and nowhere else, such that God is defining the legitimate borders of Egypt. And why Kush? Well, Kush is the country that borders Egypt.

Thus, we can generate every detail of this midrash.

Hope to have a post on parshat Beshalach up soon.

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