Va'eira: Of Frogs and Scholars
The Midrash tells us that the Egyptian's suffered more from the frogs' croaking than from their actual presence in mass. We see the same exact phenomenon today...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"...bring up the frogs on the land of Egypt..." (Exodus 8:1)
The Midrash tells us that the croaking of the frogs was more upsetting to the Egyptians than their presence. The frogs were everywhere – in the Egyptians' gardens, in their homes, in their cupboards, in their beds and even in their dinner plates. The Egyptians would open their ovens and a massive brigade of frogs jumped out at them. The frogs were all over their bodies, invading the most private domains. Yet, the Midrash tells us that the voice of the frogs – their incessant croaking – drove the Egyptians mad; this was the most difficult torment of this, the second of the ten plagues.
Apparently, the Egyptians' suffering from the croaking is surprising. Usually, frogs' croaking is a relaxing sound, associated with pastoral settings of lakes and forests. Why did it upset the Egyptians so much?
Another seemingly unconnected but intriguing point is Rebbe Akiva's expression in the Gemara, namely, that in the beginning, there was only one frog in Egypt; this frog multiplied rapidly until all of Egypt was filled with frogs. This Gemara is much deeper than its face value, and is virtually prophetic as we shall soon see, with Hashem's loving grace:
The frogs symbolize Torah scholars. The word for frog in Hebrew is tzfar-de'a, an amazing homonym in the holy tongue that's made up of two words, tzofar – a siren or a loud call, and de'a – knowledge. Together, the two words tzofar de'a comprise “the loud call of knowledge.” If anyone ever walked into the main study hall of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and heard the din of several thousand young men learning Torah at fiery full volume, they'd feel electrifying effect of the robust call of Torah.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains that the tzaddikim often conceal their blessings within allegory so the the accusing angels cannot intercept them on the way tho the Heavenly Throne. Rebbe Akiva is doing just that; he isn't telling mere folk tales in the above-mentioned Gemara passage. Let's remember that Rebbe Akiva lived in a generation when the Roman oppressors decreed against Torah learning. Not only were the leading Torah luminaries killed, but Rebbe Akiva's 24,000 students died in a plague. Until Rebbe Akiva passed the Torah on to his five new students – Rebbe Meir Baal Haness, Rebbe Yehuda bar Ilai, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, Rebbe Yossi ben Chalafta, and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamoa – all of Torah stood on his shoulders; Torah was one heartbeat away from obliteration, Heaven forbid.
Egypt is the archetype of exile and diaspora. Rebbe Akiva is the lone “frog”, the lone voice of Torah. Despite persecution, evil decrees and his own martyrdom at the hands of the cruel Romans, Rebbe Akiva succeeded in transferring the light of Torah to his five students, who became the backbone of the Mishna, Gemara, Zohar and Midrash. Their Torah subsequently spread to millions of people all the down to our generation today.
The Romans decreed against the learning of Torah; anyone who was caught learning or teaching Torah was executed. Yet, they didn't issue decrees limiting the Jews' physical freedom. We can conclude that the sound of Torah learning upset them more than Bar Cochba's revolution did.
Unfortunately, the enemies of Torah are still with us today, from within and from without. The world of Torah, especially in Israel, faces the constant threat of governmental intervention and limitations. In recent years, the traditional Torah educational system from the cheder to the yeshiva has been faced with unprecedented hostility in the name of “democracy and enlightenment.” The anti-Torah leadership in Israel has been reacting just like the ancient Egyptians – the reverberating call of Torah seems to be driving them mad. They want the Yeshiva and Kollel young man anywhere – in business, in the army or in the universities – just so long as they stop the constant “croaking” of Torah. But the more the government attacks the Torah institutions – miraculously, the more children and young people are learning Torah. We consequently see that Rebbe Akiva's tale was not a mere saga of yesteryear, but a blessing that accompanies us all the way until the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days, amen!
 - Shemot Raba 10:5
 - Sanhedrin 67b
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.