Hitting the Frogs

January 15, 2012

3 min read


Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

In Exodus 8:2, Rashi writes that initially, the dreaded plague of frogs only consisted of one frog. However, the Egyptians apparently didn't like the frog and hit it in an attempt to kill it or make it go away. Unbeknownst to them, this frog had the miraculous quality that every time it was stricken, it actually multiplied into more frogs.

While we can understand the first few people who innocently hit the frogs in their na?vet?, after it became clear that each additional strike would actually produce more frogs, why did they continue striking them? Didn't they realize that every successive hit was counterproductive and only made a bad situation worse?

The Steipler Gaon answers that these questions are fundamentally flawed. Although they certainly make sense on a rational level, the Egyptians were attacking the frogs out of anger, and when a person is angry common sense is unfortunately the farthest thing from his mind. In a fit of rage, the emotional pain one is experiencing acts with a "logic" all its own. In the heat of the moment, the wisest course of action is almost always silence, as every additional comment or action only magnifies the long-term damage which must be repaired after the situation cools down.

Now that we understand how irrational the Egyptians were to continue hitting the frogs and fanning the flames, perhaps it's time we ask ourselves why we so often fail to learn from their foolish mistakes and continue in their footsteps.

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If God wanted the Jews to be freed from their bondage in Egypt, why did He harden Pharaoh's heart (7:3) so that he would refuse to free the Jewish people instead of causing him to agree to allow the Jews to leave so that they could receive their freedom and the Torah that much sooner?

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that there was a danger that if Pharaoh willingly freed the Jews, they would feel gratitude toward him and view him as the one who was responsible for their independence. God wanted to make it absolutely clear that their freedom came solely from Him and they were indebted to nobody else, and in order to do so, He hardened Pharaoh's heart until the plagues made it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was God who was liberating them and not Pharaoh.

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Rabbi Leib Chasman points out that when rebuking someone, it is generally because we feel that they have done something wrong and need to be chastised, and we don't hesitate to let them know it. Nevertheless, as upset as we may feel at those moments, we would most likely admit that the receiver of our reprimand is certainly not as wicked as the evil Pharaoh, who is synonymous with unprecedented cruelty the likes of which we can hardly imagine.

Yet when it comes to rebuking Pharaoh, the same God Who demonstrated no qualms in raining down the full gamut of His wrath, insisted that Moshe and Aharon speak to him in a respectful manner, even as the content of their message reflected Divine punishment the likes of which had never been witnessed. The same Torah which gives us the mitzvah to admonish wrongdoing also teaches us that doing so politely is no contradiction, and is indeed the proper way to do so. (see Rashi - Exodus 6:13)

Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner goes so far as to suggest that the words of one who is unable to rebuke courteously will surely not be listened to, and in that case, the Torah exempts him from the mitzvah to reprimand wrongdoing. One who proceeds to do so anyway should be aware that in the best case he is wasting his time and energy, as his lecture will fall on deaf ears, while in reality he is also needlessly insulting and hurting another person without even performing a mitzvah in the process.

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The word in the Torah containing the most letters is in this week's parsha. What is it?

God told Moshe (Ex. 7:28) to warn Pharaoh that the frogs would strike in his palace, bedroom, and bed, and in the houses of his servants, as well as in their ovens, "uvmash'arotecha" - and in your kneading bowls. With ten letters, this word is the longest in the Torah.

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