Locust and Poverty

In the past week, a locust swarm has hit southern Israel. Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, was reportedly smothered under millions of these migratory flying insects.

In Exodus, the plague of locusts was the eighth of ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians. At that time, it was Moses (through God) that commanded the east wind that brought the locusts. But what is the reason for this week’s unwelcome arrival of the kosher insects?

Well, according to rabbi Yehuda Batzri, a rather well-known Israeli “mystical” rabbi, the reason is the “sorrow that Israel’s government is causing to the poor” with its recent economic policies. He says it’s a “well known fact” that countries that ignore their poor are visited by locusts. The rabbi bases his learned opinion on the following story he recounts: 400 years ago, a swarm of locusts was making its way towards the town of Tzfat (in northern Israel) and rabbi Yitzhak Luria (the “Ari”) drew the town’s attention to the fact that a local poor man was going hungry. The people of Tzfat quickly fed the man and the locusts changed their mind, took a turn and flew in another direction. The town was saved.

I cannot vouch for the historical truth of this story, but my question is: how does rabbi Batzri know with such confidence that it is specifically the disregard for the poor that draws locusts? I wonder.

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