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Jewish Texts

One Huge Frog

Question: I once heard a Midrash that said that the plague of frogs in Egypt began with one huge frog. Can you tell me exactly how big this frog was according to the Midrash? Was it as big as a fully grown person?

Answer: I looked up the sources about the single original frog (Rashi on Exodus 8:2; Midrash Tanchuma Shemos, chapt 14; Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 67b)——- and, unfortunately, none of them give an exact size. I expect the reason is because the size was not important for the lesson this miracle was sent to demonstrate.

I once wrote a  piece about one lesson we learn from the single frog—I’ll paste that below for your interest.

Take care and keep asking questions,
Shlomo Shulman

Parsha Views

Parshas Va’eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Do you like frogs?

I used to love frogs. I was fascinated by them. I loved waiting by a creek and watching, searching for one squatting on its powerful hind legs, eyes bulging, throat pulsating, unsuspecting. Anticipating a catch, I dreamed of bringing my slimy souvenir home and observing it from up close, through the holes in the lid of a Tupperware container. Oh, those were the days!

The Egyptians in our parsha, however, could not share such fond memories of frogs. Moshe was commanded by G-d to go with his brother, Aaron, to Pharaoh, demanding: “Let my people go!” The Egyptians had already suffered their life source, the Nile, becoming a bloodbath. That was Plague # 1. But Pharaoh was not easily moved. So G-d commanded Moshe to warn Pharaoh that if he didn’t relent, he’d be facing Plague # 2 – masses of frogs swarming from the Nile, blanketing every inch of Egyptian territory.

But even this threatened consequence could not budge Pharaoh’s position. Finding no partner in peace, G-d commands Moshe to tell his brother, Aaron: “stretch out your arm with your staff over the rivers, over the canals and over the ponds and bring up the frogs over the land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:1). Aaron acts. “And Aaron stretched out his arm over the waters of Egypt and the frog arose and covered the land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:2).

Did you notice something unusual about that last verse we quoted? Go ahead and read it again. I’ll wait – OK. Found it? That’s right. It says: “and the frog arose and covered the land of Egypt.” The word “frog” is written in the singular (“tzefardei’a” in the original Hebrew).

What could the Torah be telling us? Rashi finds a Midrash that sees into the unusual wording of our verse: “There was one frog, and when they would hit it, it would spew out bands and bands of little frogs” (based on Midrash Tanchuma, Va’eira 14). Apparently, G-d caused one giant frog to emerge from the Nile. When the terrified Egyptians hit it, it spewed out smaller frogs. The more they struck it, the more frogs would come out. The more frogs came out, the more they would strike it. This was no Kermit the frog!

After this hitting and spewing and hitting and spewing had gone on for a while, the entire land of Egypt (with the exception of the Jewish neighborhood of Goshen) was carpeted with oily amphibians.

Now, let’s ask a question. Once the Egyptians saw that the more they hit the giant frog, the more it spewed out little frogs, why didn’t they just stop hitting the frog? That would only make sense; a pragmatic strategy. They could have saved themselves a lot of grief.

But that’s not how someone acts when they’re angry. The angrier we get, the more we lash out, even if this results in the object of our anger responding towards us with greater fury. So the Egyptians struck the great frog in their anger and it spewed out little frogs. And this made the Egyptians angrier and they struck the frog more. And more little frogs spewed out. And the Egyptians boiled in fury and struck the frog more and more!

Does this sound familiar? No, not the giant frog. I mean, how our emotion of anger works. It’s very predictable, yet we never seem to learn from our vast experience with it. When we get into an argument and we say something out of anger, the other side responds harshly in turn. Then we respond with a little more force, which is met by a slightly more forceful return. And it escalates. And pretty soon we find ourselves engulfed in frogs (figuratively).

What’s the solution? Isn’t it obvious (in theory, at least)? If we’d just stop responding to everything we hear, if we wouldn’t always answer back, our disputes could not continue (at least not for very long.) Slowly, but surely, arguments die down when only one side is yelling and the other side remains silent. It takes two to fight.

But when we decide that we must defend our honor and we can’t let the other side get in the last word then arguments intensify and escalate and pretty soon our figurative frogs are everywhere.

When we see a discussion disintegrating into an argument, why don’t we just stop answering back? That would only make sense and save a lot of grief. We just have to learn to be smarter than our emotions. This is a lesson we can learn from our old hosts, the ancient Egyptians. Next time, we have to catch our tongues when we find ourselves sinking deeper into an argument. We won’t get in the last word, but we’ll save ourselves from the plague of the frogs.

Good Shabbos,
Shlomo Shulman

(This week’s essay, revisited and revised, from the Parsha Views Archives, is based on Birkas Peretz,
by the Steipler Gaon ob”m [Rav Yaakov Kanievsky].)

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