“Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere.” But where did they all come from?
“ח’:’ב’) “וַיֵּ֤ט אַהֲרֹן֙ אֶת־יָד֔וֹ עַ֖ל מֵימֵ֣י מִצְרָ֑יִם וַתַּ֙עַל֙ הַצְּפַרְדֵּ֔עַ וַתְּכַ֖ס אֶת־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם”)
“And Aaron stretched forth his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frog(s) came up and covered the land of Egypt.”
Many of us are familiar with Rashi’s response to the following question.
Why does the pasuk use the singular form “ותעל הצפרדע” the “frog rose,” rather than the plural, “the frogs rose?”
“צפרדע אחת הייתה והיו מכין אותה, והיא מתזת נחילים נחילים, זהו מדרשו”
According to the Medrash, there was one large frog, but as the Egyptians hit it, it spewed forth many swarms of frogs which spread throughout the land.
Now if you happened to be an Egyptian, and you noticed that repeated frog beatings caused your plague to multiply, would you not consider an alternate form of extermination? Why didn’t they?
And what about big Momma Frog? What was it about being beaten that activated the frog multiplication mechanism? Could she have managed to produce hordes of happy hopping offspring had she not been subject to all that abuse?
I ask this not because I particularly relate to amphibians (or to medrashim for that matter), but because I do identify with a very similar scenario in the actual text of last week’s parasha, Shemot.
The book begins with Pharaoh discussing his “solution” to his “Jewish problem.” The fledgling nation of Israel is consequently taxed, embittered, and subject to severe subjugation. But lo! What is their response to this oppression?
“א:י”ב) “וְכַֽאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל)
“As much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength,”
“א’:כ’) “וַיִּ֧רֶב הָעָ֛ם וַיַּֽעַצְמ֖וּ מְאֹֽד)
“…and the people multiplied and became very strong.”
Jews here, Jews there, Jews succeeding everywhere.
The question now becomes more relevant. If you are an Egyptian or any garden variety hater bent on the Jews’ extermination, and you notice that your attempts at annihilation only increase their success, might you not consider something new? Might you even notice this counterintuitive reality, and decide to ignore the problem in anticipation that it might just go away, that the Jews might assimilate or take part in their own obliteration, G-d forbid?
More importantly, what is it about persecution that increases Jewish success? Particularly, how is it that in response to 70 years of our enemies’ attempts to eradicate Jewish presence from our land, we have become so magically prosperous? Would this have happened had we not been perpetually attacked? Have our enemies been doing us a favor?
Would it have been possible for the Jews returning to our land after our first 70 years of exile to rebuild the Bet Hamikdash, if they had not been forced to simultaneously stand vigilant against constant danger?
And must it be so? Why, oh why, must it be so? Can we not be fruitful and multiply without being “beaten”? Can we not spread “ימה קדמה צפונה ונגבה” unmolested? Can we not create medical and technological breakthroughs, bring relief worldwide; can we not be a luminous light unto the nations without being a victim amongst them? I believe we must.
I am riding the bus one bright Jerusalem morning, when a young soldier in full military attire boards. Brandishing a submachine gun, he paces to the back of the bus, his eyes roving and alert. This chayal means business, and the tenseness of his stance permeates my skin. What intelligence has prompted the heightened security today? What real threat is he helping to avert? Why must it be this way?
I will always be profoundly proud of our blessed Israeli army. צה״ל – צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל The Israel Defense Force. Just look at us. As our name declares, our precious boys are not here to attack or conquer, but rather to defend. Despite our strength and prowess, despite our ability to be otherwise, we are truly the most moral army on earth. But are we really?
Sitting here on the bus, something shifts within me. Must we be persecuted to stand proud? Suddenly I no longer want us to be the Defense Force! Defense is not a force. If we call our army a defense force, then by definition there must be a perpetual threat for us to defend against. I am sick and weary, angry and outraged, and hurting from the calamity we have suffered again this week. The torchbearers of belief, brains and brawn, should not be on the defense.
Our parasha, Va’eira, describes the first seven of ten makkot that brought down our oppressors. As we sing them at our Pesach sedarim, we remove drops of wine from our cups, with mercy for those who suffered these plagues. Yet, where is our self-mercy? How many monstrous makkot do we allow ourselves to bear?
We, the nation with the most moral army on earth cannot permit calamitous plagues within our borders; hails of boulders; drive by shootings by wild animals; bus bombings; car rammings and stabbings; (demolition of our homes); death of our firstborns. Blood boils! Is it moral to allow all this to happen? In being constantly on the defensive, are we complicit in the attack?
Is this the essential and inevitable formula for Jewish success? Must persecution be the impetus for our prospering? No! It’s time to break the paradigm, and not be polliwogs.
As I transfer from bus to light rail I resist stepping behind the self-imprisoning barricades. We are fencing in the wrong people.
It is time to beat down those who beat us.
The train arrives, and I step on board, musing about possible new names for our army.
The Israel-Awesome-Don’t-You-Even-Think-About It-Force. The Watch- Out-‘Cuz-We’re-Stronger- And-Smarter-And-Better-Than-You- Force. The Make-One-Move-And-You’ll-Get-What’s-Coming-To-You-Force.
Last week’s parasha ended with Hashem’s telling Moshe, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.” Are we prepared to see? To see the reality for what it is? To see our way to uniting and to being our best self, strong enough to force goodness out unmotivated by the need to ward off evil? Hashem’s message to Moshe reaches out to us: “Now you will see – yes.”
עוד תראה עוד תראה כמה טוב יהיה
Am Yisrael Chai.