We read in Parashat Bo of the eighth plague – the locusts that swarmed into Egypt and consumed all the country’s vegetation. The Torah tells, “The locusts descended upon the entire land of Egypt, and landed throughout the boundaries of Egypt” (10:14).
The Ba’al Ha-turim notes that the word used here in reference to the locusts’ assault – “va-yanach” (“landed,” or, literally, “rested”) – appears in only one other context in the Torah, namely, in regard to God’s having “rested” on Shabbat. In the fourth of the Ten Commandments, the Torah tells “…for the Lord made heaven and earth…in six days, and He rested [va-yanach] on the seventh; the Lord therefore blessed the day of Shabbat and declared it sacred” (Shemot 20:10). To explain this textual association between Shabbat and the plague of locusts, the Ba’al Ha-turim suggests that the locusts which descended upon Egypt “rested” on Shabbat, just as God “rested” on Shabbat after the six days of creation.
What might be the significance of this association between the locusts in Egypt, and the observance of Shabbat?
One answer (cited in the name of Rav Yisrael David Shlesinger) relates to the Torah’s emphasis on the unique nature of the swarm of locusts in Egypt: “…there was never [a swarm of] locusts like it, and there will never be like it afterward” (10:14). The Ba’al Ha-turim perhaps sought to draw our attention to the similarly unique feature of each and every Shabbat. As we observe Shabbat each week, we might intuitively assume that every Shabbat is essentially the same, without much difference between one Shabbat and the next. The Ba’al Ha-turim thus compares Shabbat to the plague of locusts that struck Egypt, which was a singular event. Each Shabbat offers us a unique opportunity for spiritual growth that differs from the opportunities presented by any previous Shabbat and by any future Shabbat. We are thus urged to take full advantage of each and every Shabbat which we are privileged to experience, and make every effort to utilize this precious opportunity to its very fullest.
We might also suggest an additional possibility. The Ba’al Ha-turim appears to be saying that the locusts stayed in place on Shabbat, as opposed to their usual practice of flying to a different location once they finish consuming the produce in their current location. Whereas normally locusts do not “rest,” but rather fly from place to place in a constant, never-ending search for more food to consume, on Shabbat, they “rested,” staying in one place. If so, then perhaps the Ba’al Ha-turim is presenting us with a symbolic representation of one of the purposes on Shabbat. Throughout the workweek, we – like locusts – are constantly on the run, tirelessly and frantically working and expending energy to collect “food,” to earn more. In our natural, and legitimate, desire to improve our material condition, we “fly” from place to place in search of more money. On Shabbat, however, just as Benei Yisrael were commanded in the wilderness, “No person shall leave from his place on the seventh day” (Shemot 16:29) – not to leave the camp to look for manna to collect – we, too, are to “remain in place.” Whereas during the week it is perfectly acceptable to expend efforts to obtain more than what we already have, on Shabbat, we are to feel content and satisfied with our current material blessings, and feel no need to go out looking for more. Just like the locusts, which the Ba’al Ha-turim describes as “resting” in place on Shabbat, without flying about in search for more produce to consume, we, too, are to “rest” on Shabbat in the sense of feeling content with and grateful for what we have already been given, focusing exclusively on all that we have rather than concerning ourselves with what we don’t.