The Frog that Covered the Land

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  January 26, 2017

An iron frog on plastic moss.

So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. — Exodus 8:6

This Torah portion for this week is Va’eira, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.

The second plague to hit Egypt was the plague of frogs. Every Jewish child who goes to a Hebrew Day School knows this song: “One day Pharaoh awoke in his bed – there were frogs on his head and frogs in his bed. Frogs on his toes, and frogs on his nose. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere!”

It’s a cute song, but that’s not exactly how it happened.

The Jewish sages point out that in the original Hebrew text, the Scripture says, “So Aaron stretched out his hand . . . and the frog came up and covered the land.” Did you catch it? One frog came up, and somehow, one frog covered the whole land! What does this mean?

The sages explain that the plague began with just one frog. When the Egyptians saw it, they struck it and tried to kill it. But instead of dying, the frog began multiplying. One frog became two. The Egyptians became angry and hit the two frogs, but that only caused them to become four. Infuriated, they struck them again and again. Four became eight and then 16, until eventually there were so many frogs that they covered the whole land!

Why didn’t the Egyptians stop trying to kill the frogs when they saw what was happening?

The answer: Anger.

Anger is blinding. It is counter-productive and self-destructive. But that doesn’t stop people from becoming angry, and it didn’t stop the Egyptians from acting out of anger. The Egyptians became so angry that they couldn’t see how much they were hurting themselves. Such is the power of anger: It destroys everything and everyone who comes in its path, including its owner.

Maimonides, a renowned medieval philosopher and rabbi, taught that for every character trait there is a middle road. That means don’t be stingy and don’t spend endlessly. Don’t be too selfless and don’t be too selfish. But there are two traits —arrogance and anger — that even Maimonides advised that there was no middle ground. When it comes to those traits, we are best to put as much distance between them and us as possible.

The Talmud teaches, “When a person gives in to anger, if he is wise, his wisdom leaves him. If he is a prophet, his power of prophecy leaves him; if greatness was decreed for him from Heaven, anger will cause him to be degraded.” Our anger hurts us more than anyone else.

Try this: Next time you get angry and are ready to lash out, ask yourself, “What do I have to gain from my anger?” Maybe you will feel good for a few minutes or a few hours, but in the long run, anger gets you nothing. Then ask, “What do I have to lose from my anger?” The answer to that? Everything!