SALT - Sunday, 22 Tevet 5780 - January 19, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (67b), famously cited by Rashi in his commentary to Parashat Vaera (8:2), tells that the second plague visited upon the Egyptians – the plague of frogs – actually began with but a single frog, which then rapidly multiplied into countless frogs which overwhelmed Egypt.  On this basis the Gemara explains why the Torah uses the singular form “tzefardei’a” (“frog”) in reference to the onset of the plague (8:2), but elsewhere speaks of the “tzefarde’im” (“frogs”) that filled the country.
            Rashi, based on Midrashic sources, adds that the Egyptians tried to eliminate this frog, but each time they struck the frog, it produced offspring.  The Egyptians repeatedly struck the frog, causing it to continue reproducing, until eventually Egypt was overrun by frogs.  Many later commentators noted that this description accurately – and perhaps amusingly – depicts the irrationality of anger, how angry reactions evoke additional hostility.  Sadly, people very often continue “striking” those who have provoked them, despite knowing that these “blows” only cause more damage.  Like the Midrashic depiction of the Egyptians mindlessly striking the frog, people sometimes persist in their grievance and rage even though this only bring upon themselves greater harm.
            Additionally, however, this depiction might serve to illustrate the mistake made by the Egyptians in their decision to enslave Benei Yisrael.  As we read earlier, in Parashat Shemot, Pharaoh felt that drastic measures were necessary to curb Benei Yisrael’s population growth, and so he subjected them to slave labor.  The Torah famously relates, “Ve-kha’asher ye’anu oto kein yirbeh ve-khein yifrotz” (1:12) – the more oppression Benei Yisrael endured, the more they reproduced.  And thus when the Midrash speaks of a frog rapidly producing offspring in response to the beatings it suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, it perhaps seeks to illustrate Pharaoh’s folly, thinking he could diminish Benei Yisrael’s size through enslavement, which ultimately proved t have the precise opposite effect.
            We might also suggest that this depiction perhaps points to the common phenomenon of attempts to solve what was a tolerable problem ending up causing an intolerable situation.  Sometimes we try to be too perfect, and rush to the single “frog” – minor dilemma or annoyance – in an attempt to eliminate it, but in so doing, we make more problems for ourselves.  If we insist on addressing every minor “frog” in our lives, we might likely find ourselves unnecessarily beset by challenges and complications that could have been avoided.  Often, the “frog” we confront is far less damaging than the issues that arise in our frantic and persistent attempts to eliminate it.  The Midrash here teaches us to think carefully in determining which “frogs” we need to try to remove from our lives, and which are best left alone and tolerated.