FROGS OF WRATH
Bob has been the proud owner of his hardware store for the last ten years. He opened it shortly after graduating college, and has since seen the venture grow and expand into the large emporium that it is today.
Bob has been the proud owner of his hardware store for the last ten years. He opened it shortly after graduating college, and has since seen the venture grow and expand into the large emporium that it is today. Bob, of course, realizes that though his business is growing and profitable, he is really not to be accredited with its success. He knows that he has just put in his effort, and that Hashem, in His kindness, has caused the business to grow. Bob constantly speaks about this, and thanks Hashem for granting him such success. However, the scene changes when a competing hardware store opens up across the street. Suddenly, all of Bobs talk about Hashems giving him success does not seem to be so fluent on his lips. One after another, Bob tries various ways of ruthlessly and inappropriately undercutting and outdoing his new neighbor in an attempt to put him out of business. When there was no competition, it was easy for Bob to appreciate that it was Hashem, not he, who ultimately determined his annual income. However, once there was adversity, Bob showed that his belief was not so deeply rooted.
This weeks Torah portion describes seven of the ten plagues that struck Egypt. The second was the plague of tzfardea (popularly translated as frogs). Countless frogs covered the entire country, jumping into beds, food, and everywhere else you would not want frogs to be. They croaked and made life miserable for the Egyptians. When the Torah describes the beginning of this plague, it mentions that "the frog arose [from the Nile River]" (Exodus 8:2). From the singular form of the word "frog," Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that the plague did, in fact, begin with only one frog. However, when the Egyptians hit the frog, it miraculously split into two frogs. Then, when those frogs were hit, they also split. Because the Egyptians kept hitting the frogs, they continued to divide until they filled the entire land.
The Steipler Rav, a Torah leader from the previous generation, asks the obvious question. The Egyptians saw that whenever they would hit a frog, it would split and create more frogs. Logic would therefore dictate that in order to prevent a national frog epidemic, they should simply not hit the frogs! Why did the Egyptians continue to hit them?
He answers that we see from here the destructive nature of anger. The Egyptians would hit a frog and it would split. They would then become angry and frustrated at the annoying amphibians. They would vengefully hit them again, causing another split. The anger would escalate, and they would hit them again and again, all logic disregarded because of the burning anger they felt. While this actually sounds quite silly, we often do a very similar thing. Someone will insult us, and this will create a feeling of anger and annoyance. Logic would argue that we should just nip any oncoming arguments in the bud and ignore it. Yet, out of anger, we will retaliate, pushing the dispute along one step further. This will continue, back and forth, over and over again. Anger will escalate and fury will rise, to no end just as the Egyptians did with the frogs. However, if we learn to control our anger, we can prevent these negative circumstances from ever coming about in the first place.
There are a few techniques that can be used to prevent and discharge feelings of anger. The first is a matter of perspective. Part of bitachon (trust in Hashem) is realizing that everything that happens is directed from Above. This holds true to the extent that a person does not even bruise his finger unless Hashem has decreed that it should happen (Talmud Tractate Chulin 7b). This idea applies both to natural forces (like bruising ones finger or getting stuck in a bad storm), as well as deeds which other people enact against us. For example, if someones money is stolen, Hashem had decreed that the victim should lose that amount of money. If Hashem had not made such a decree, then the thief would never have been able to steal it. (It should be noted that the thief has free choice. While it was decreed that the victim should be harmed in this way, the thief still committed a sin by actually being the one to do it and will be held accountable for it.) We also know that everything that Hashem does is in a persons best interest (Talmud Tractate Berachot 60b). Although it may not always seem that way, only Hashem can judge all of the applicable factors, and determine what is really best for an individual.
With this perspective, we can work to prevent certain feelings of anger. When a person is wronged, he can focus on the fact that Hashem determined that it was proper for this to happen to him. So why should the victim get angry with the perpetrator of the crime? The perpetrator was just a messenger through which Hashems will was fulfilled. Since Hashem had already decreed that the victim should experience this hardship, it would have happened regardless of whether or not this particular perpetrator chose to do it. Hashem has many messengers. This perspective can help to prevent anger.
Should someone already be angry with another, the Orchos Tzaddikim, a classic work on Jewish ethics, suggests two techniques to quickly dispel that anger. One is not to raise ones voice, and the other is not to look the person at which one is angry at in the face. If a person begins yelling, it can help fuel the anger, making matters worse. However, if a person lowers his tone of voice, perhaps almost whispering, when they are upset, it can help extinguish the anger. In addition, if one is angry with a specific person, not looking directly at him can also help quash the anger that he feels towards the person.
Anger is a destructive character trait. It harms relationships, it furthers arguments, and it can cause people to act in ways they thought they never would. We should therefore be especially careful to work on correcting this trait. There are certain times when we are more prone to become angry. We all know that when we are tired or pressured, we become more edgy and are faster to jump at other people. Instead of taking this as a fact of human nature, we should be even more careful at those times, preventing ourselves from becoming angry.
In the story of Bobs hardware store, we can see the application of this point. Before his new competitor moved in, he would preach his belief that Hashem provides his livelihood. However, when adversity struck, Bob was suddenly trying to put his competitor out of business! It was easy for Bob to declare his beliefs when they were not challenged. However, he did not stand up to the trials that were brought by adversity. The same idea could be applied to anger. When there is no reason to be angry, we prove nothing by remaining calm. It is specifically when it is difficult for us to remain at ease, that our traits are put to the test. We must then push ourselves not to get angry, thus displaying true mastery over our traits. By working on this trait, may we prevent ourselves from getting angry with others; harboring relationships instead of hindering them.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at Yeshivat Chofetz Chaim in New York.
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