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FROG DAY AFTERNOON

by Josh Gottlieb    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

As we read about the troubles and hardships that our brothers and sisters in Israel are going through, it is often difficult to recognize G-d’s direct impact on the everyday events that occur in the world.

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As we read about the troubles and hardships that our brothers and sisters in Israel are going through, it is often difficult to recognize G-d’s direct impact on the everyday events that occur in the world. We instead attribute all incidents to the current leader’s political leanings, or to the bias of world opinion. We use basic rationalizations ingrained in our mindsets to avoid coming to a realization of the profound protection which G-d is granting to his nation.

This deficiency is not, however, strictly a modern phenomenon, nor does it exist only in our midst. In this week’s Torah portion, when Moses announces the coming plague of the first born, he says, "so said Hashem, at about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt" (Exodus 11:4). Certainly G-d knows exactly when midnight will be. Why then does Moses declare "at about midnight"?

Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that Moses was worried that Pharaoh’s astrologers might err in their calculations of when midnight would fall out, and they would thus lose faith in Moses and, consequently, in Hashem as well. This possibility was a very real concern despite the fact that the astrologers have already witnessed a plethora of open miracles, and that, a moment later, the astrologers will see the first born of Egypt dying all around them. On account of a minor discrepancy in time, the astrologers were willing to ignore all other evidence and to embrace the explanation which would allow them to deny the influence of G-d on events in the world.

Another example of this concept, which is slightly less extreme, may be found in last week’s Torah portion. When Pharaoh asks Moses to pray to G-d for the removal of the frogs, Moses responds by asking Pharaoh when he would like the frogs to be gone, to which Pharaoh replies "tomorrow." The Sifsei Chachamim, an 18th century supercommentary on Rashi, postulates an obvious question: why would Pharaoh not ask that the frogs be removed today? He answers that Pharaoh believed that Moses was utilizing magic to perform the plagues and he therefore told Moses to get rid of the frogs tomorrow, at a more inauspicious time. The verse then relates that Moses cried out to G-d to remove the frogs. Here the Sifsei Chachamim asks another question: Why does Moses need to cry out to Hashem to end the plague, instead of merely praying to G-d as he does by all the other plagues? He answers that a person must hear himself pray. Therefore, with all the noise from the frogs, Moses was forced to cry out to G-d to remove them.

Perhaps one could suggest a different answer to this second question. The Talmud (Tractate Ta’anit 15a) explains that on a public fast day, the Jews would add six blessings to the traditional 18-blessing shemonah esrei prayer. One of the added blessings refers to G-d’s answering Samuel’s prayer, and concludes, "Blessed is G-d who hears our cries." Another of the blessings refers to G-d’s answering Elijah’s prayer, and concludes, "Blessed is G-d who hears our prayers."

There is an opinion in the Talmud (ibid. 17a) which switches the endings of these two blessings and ascribes the ending of "who hears our cries" to the blessing which mentions Elijah. The Talmud questions this opinion: Where do we find that Elijah cried out to G-d?

The Talmud explains that the verse of "aneini Hashem aneini—Answer me, Hashem, answer me" in Elijah’s prayer is an expression similar to crying out. The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 6b) explains that, in fact, the double expression found in this verse contains two prayers. Elijah asked G-d for a fire to descend from heaven and consume his offering, and also that G-d should influence the people not to assume that Elijah was utilizing magic to create the fire.

This is what the verse is trying to hint to us when it says that Moses cried out to Hashem. We know that Pharaoh suspected that Moses was using magic to perform the plagues. This suspicion is especially evident in the plague of frogs from Pharaoh’s request that the frogs be removed "tomorrow." Therefore, Moses cried out to G-d, not only that He remove the frogs, but also that He convince the people that it was from G-d, and not magic, that the plagues originated. Thus, one sees that the leaders of Israel felt it necessary to plead with G-d to override this innate human desire to attribute miraculous events to "natural" causes instead of searching for G-d’s influence behind the event.

The lesson which we can draw from here is clear. It is sometimes difficult to see G-d’s hand openly in the world. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult even to see G-d’s influence behind the scenes, as the Jews questioned in the desert, "Is G-d among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7). However, it is our responsibility to search for G-d’s impact on every situation, and to believe that every event in our lives is, in fact, ordained by Him in accordance with a master plan. In this way, we can live our lives more effectively with the knowledge that as long as we continue to strive for growth in our service of G-d, we can be assured that all occurrences in the world are ultimately for the best.

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Josh Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York.

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