Of Frogs and Freedom

Around the world, frog populations are falling. A combination of a highly contagious deadly fungal disease and the loss of wetland habitat is pushing many frog populations to the brink of extinction. The potential loss of a species that plays such a vital role in our fragile ecosystem is something that most people would find very troubling. Unless, of course, you happen to be an Ancient Egyptian, for whom the plague of the frogs was particularly distressing.

At first glance, this plague seems like a surprising punishment. Frogs, after all, might be a nuisance but they are not harmful in and of themselves. Yet, this is the only plague which Pharaoh finds so terrifying that he actually asks Moshe to remove it from the land. The Torah offers little in the way of background about what occurred before the Jewish people were enslaved. It tells us that the Egyptians feared the Jewish people would multiply rapidly and rise up against them. In order to prevent this, the Egyptians enslaved the Jewish people. Furthermore, according to a midrash they even limited the Jewish people’s ability to communicate. Like oppressors throughout history nothing bothered the Egyptians more than the voice of the oppressed.

The Frogs, however, could not be so easily silenced. In fact, they croaked incessantly so that their presence and the enslavement of the Jewish people could not be ignored. The frogs also multiplied rapidly, and according to a midrash were unafraid to jump into ovens while the Egyptians were cooking, sacrificing their lives to disturb the daily life of Ancient Egypt. The plague of the frogs was the realization of the worst fears that the Egyptians had about the Jewish people. The plague’s most disturbing aspect was not the physical damage it wrought, but rather the psychological harm the frogs inflicted on the Egyptians. Ultimately, it is a reminder that our own irrational fears can become the source of our greatest insecurities.

About the Author
Noah Leavitt has an MA in Jewish Philosophy from Yeshiva University. He received smicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
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