The plague of the frogs began with a single one that multiplied into millions. Find out in this week’s column on the Torah portion how the anger of the Egyptians made that happen.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is Va’era (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35). The most prominent episode in this Torah reading is certainly the one about the plagues with which God punished the Egyptians. There were 10 plagues in total. Seven are discussed in this week’s Torah reading, and the remaining three in next week’s.
Describing the onset of the second plague, the plague of frogs, the Torah says, “the frog ascended from the river”.
The frog? Yes. One little annoying green frog.
You might be wondering: Were there not frogs all over Egypt? Which child hasn’t learned the song that goes something like this: “One morning King Pharaoh woke in his bed / There were frogs in his bed and frogs on his head / Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes / Frogs here, frogs there, frogs just jumping everywhere!”
So what’s this with “the frog”? Why does the Torah describe that plague in the singular?
The Midrash (rabbinic literature) teaches that indeed, the plague began with a single frog. One frog jumped out of the Nile River.
The Egyptians thought to themselves that this plague would be an easy one. So what did they do? A few people went after the frog with a whacker in order to kill it. And here’s where the miracle actually began: Instead of dying from the whack – it reproduced! Now there were two frogs! Two frogs? Easy they thought. Whack! Four Frogs. Whack! Eight frogs. Whack! Sixteen frogs. The frogs kept reproducing and quickly multiplied.
The obvious question arises: Why did the Egyptians continue beating the frogs once they saw that with every whack there were more frogs? Did they not realize that they were only making matters worse? Why would they not just cut their losses and leave their plague/punishment to a few dozen or few hundred frogs?
The answer can be found in a single word: Anger. Anger always leads to irrational behavior. When people become enraged, they act without thinking. Of course it made no sense to continue whacking the frogs; it only multiplied their plague and their problems. The problem is that angry people do not think. Angry people are impulsive and illogical. Have you ever seen some downright crazy road rage because someone accidentally cuts someone off? The guy with the road rage usually endangers people more than the one who accidentally cut someone off.
Anger Compared to Idolatry?
The Talmud teaches that anger is such a terrible attribute that one who becomes angry is considered an idol worshipper!
Anger compared to idolatry? To abandoning God? It seems a bit rough, does it not? The answer can be found in the common denominator between anger and idolatry: they are both irrational and illogical. And yet, people have and do worship idolatrous non-sense.
We are continuously warned throughout Jewish literature and ethical works on the evil of anger. We have to do our best to control our anger. With some determination and self-control – we really can! As we can learn from the behavior of the Egyptians – if we cannot control our anger, we may very well bring a plague upon ourselves.