“And Aaron stretched out his arm over the waters of Egypt and the frog arose and covered the land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:2).
Here we are in the Torah portion of Vaera, knee-deep in the ten plagues. We all know about the plague of frogs. But read the verse above again. Do you notice something unusual about it? It says: “and the frog arose and covered the land of Egypt.” The word “frog” is written in the singular (“tzefardei’a” in the original Hebrew).
Rashi finds a Midrash that sees into the unusual wording of our verse: “There was one frog, and when they would hit it, it would spew out bands and bands of little frogs” (based on Midrash Tanchuma, Va’eira 14). Apparently, God caused one giant frog to emerge from the Nile. When the terrified Egyptians hit it, it spewed out smaller frogs. The more they struck it, the more frogs would come out. The more frogs came out, the more they would strike it.
After this hitting and spewing and hitting and spewing had gone on for a while, the entire land of Egypt (with the exception of the Jewish neighborhood of Goshen) was carpeted with oily amphibians.
Now, let’s ask a question. Once the Egyptians saw that the more they hit the giant frog, the more it spewed out little frogs, why didn’t they just stop hitting the frog? That would only make sense; a pragmatic strategy. They could have saved themselves a lot of grief.
But that’s not how someone acts when they’re angry. The angrier we get, the more we lash out, even if this results in the object of our anger responding towards us with greater fury. So the Egyptians struck the great frog in their anger and it spewed out little frogs.
And this made the Egyptians angrier and they struck the frog more. And more little frogs spewed out. And the Egyptians boiled in fury and struck the frog more and more!
Does this sound familiar? Isn't this precisely how anger too often works. It’s very predictable, yet we never seem to learn from our vast experience with it. When we get into an argument and we say something out of anger, the other side responds harshly in turn. Then we respond with a little more force, which is met by a slightly more forceful return. And it escalates. And pretty soon we find ourselves engulfed in frogs (figuratively).
There’s plenty to be angry about in the world but we have to learn to be smarter than our emotions. This is a lesson we can learn from our old hosts, the ancient Egyptians. Next time, try catching your tongue when you find yourself sinking deeper into an argument. You won’t get in the last word, but you might just save yourself from the plague of the frogs.