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THE ANGER WITHIN US

by Benji Ram    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The second plague which Hashem brought upon the Egyptian people was frogs. "And the frog(s) came up and covered the land of Egypt" (Exodus 8:2). Strangely, the Hebrew word "tzefardaya" which the Torah uses to describe the frogs is in fact singular, and should be translated simply as "frog".

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The second plague which Hashem brought upon the Egyptian people was frogs. "And the frog(s) came up and covered the land of Egypt" (Exodus 8:2). Strangely, the Hebrew word "tzefardaya" which the Torah uses to describe the frogs is in fact singular, and should be translated simply as "frog". Rashi, the classic commentator on the Torah, quotes a Midrash which explains that the reason the Torah uses a singular word "frog" to describe what was a massive plague of frogs which engulfed the entire land of Egypt is because initially there was only one frog which emerged from the Nile. However, every time the Egyptians would strike the frog in an attempt to destroy it, it would miraculously split and become multiple frogs. This phenomenon continued until there were swarms and swarms of frogs throughout the land.

Although this explains the peculiarity of the language in the verse, it remains quite perplexing why the Egyptians continuously beat the frogs until they multiplied to such an extent that they filled the entire country. Didn't they learn after the first two, three, or even ten times that the more they would hit the frogs the more they would multiply? It seems after a while they would figure out what was happening and stop hitting the frogs so as to limit the multiplication of the plague. What were the Egyptians thinking?

Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, one of the greatest Torah scholars in Israel of the past generation, offers an interesting answer to this question, one that provides us an insight into the dangerous character trait of ka'as, anger. The Egyptians reacted to their anger in an unproductive way. With each anger-filled hit that the Egyptians dealt to the frogs, the anger that they were experiencing overcame them. They lost their tempers. The trait of anger is so strong that it can cause people to lose their ability to think logically and see reality. The Egyptians were blinded to reason to the point that they simply could not see what was going on around them. Each hit split the frogs further and propelled the Egyptians to lose their temper even more so that they did not realize that they were destroying themselves and their land. The lesson here is to try and remain calm when one feels angry. It is important not to lose our temper so that we can maintain our logical thinking and rational behavior.

This is not to say that anger is something that should never be felt. In the story of the abduction and rape of Dinah by the prince of the city of Shechem, Simeon and Levi felt such anger at seeing their sister harmed that they overreacted with violence and annihilated the entire city. This occurred while the other tribes did nothing for the benefit of Dinah. The Chasam Sofer, the great leader of early 19th century Hungarian Jewry, explains the verse from Jacob's blessing of Simeon and Levi, "I will separate them within Jacob, and I will disperse them in Israel" (Genesis 49:7), that Jacob wanted to take some of the anger felt by Simeon and Levi and spread it amongst the other brothers. While Simeon and Levi had too much anger, the other brothers had too little.

The Chasam Sofer is explaining that every character trait is necessary. The only question is how much and in which situations they should be used. Someone without anger or passion will fail to take action against injustice, like the other ten brothers. On the other hand, too much anger is extremely harmful and could lead to excessive violence, as it did with Simeon and Levi. It causes fighting, hurt feelings, and can even lead to self-destruction as seen in the story of the frogs in Egypt. What is needed is a proper balance of the two to be used to the directives of the Torah. It is everyone's challenge to clarify the right time, place, and amount for each trait, including anger. Fortunate is the person who has mastered the proper balance.

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Benji Ram, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva High School, currently resides in Baltimore.

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