The Frog and the “Steipler” Rabbi

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28 Mar 2007

Holy and Secular: How were the frogs distributed throughout all of the land of Egypt? Rabbi Akiva gives us a very amazing explanation. “There was one frog, and the Egyptians would hit it with a stick. As they struck it, other frogs would fall away from it, until the whole land of Egypt was filled with frogs.” [Midrash Tanchuma Va’eira 14]. The Egyptians are the ones who distributed all the frogs. They kept hitting the first one, and that is how the frogs spread through the land.

The Steipler Rabbi (Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky) asked a very reasonable question about this Midrash. The Egyptians saw that when they struck the frog it was divided into more and more frogs – why then did they continue hitting it? If when you strike the frog it does not die but rather divides into more frogs, wouldn’t it be best not to do anything at all? Why did the Egyptians insist on hitting the frog and thus spreading the plague throughout the land?

The rabbi’s reply to this question is very important. It is a combination of psychology and ethics:

“Where does the trait of anger lead? Since the frog continued to give off more frogs, they felt that they had to keep hitting it in order to take revenge, and to strike it as hard as possible! And the more frogs it gave off, the angrier they became. Their anger burned within them. And this kept on – they continued to strike and take vengeance, and it continued to lay swarms of new frogs, until the entire land was covered.”

The Egyptians did not think that it would help them to strike the frog. They simply were very angry, and they tried to punish the insolent frog. The fact that they were the ones who were harmed by the punishment of the frog did not interest them at all. The main thing was to vent their anger, to strike out and to punish. If the Egyptians had remained calm, the plague of the frogs would not have been such a severe tragedy. The ones who transformed it into a terrible plague were the Egyptians themselves!

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It is important to know that the frog did not remain in Egypt. The Steipler Rabbi claims that each and every one of us sometimes meets just such a frog. And like in Egypt, the seriousness of the blow struck by the frog depends only on our reaction:

“The same is true in any case when we become angry, for if we let our shame be heard and do not respond the matter will slowly settle down. But when we respond, our antagonist answers, back and forth. And the more we avenge ourselves, the more our antagonist responds, as strongly as possible. Thus, logic demands that the best policy is not to fight against the one who hurt us but rather to remain quiet until the matter subsides.

“But the trait of anger demands the following: How can I be quiet about this? And the person begins to respond or to take revenge. So then the other person increases his attack, and his own trait of anger tells him that he must react even stronger. And this repeats itself over and over, ending just like the plague of the frogs!”

* * * * * *

It happens now and then that we are hurt or insulted. Every one of us has the same choice that the Egyptians had – we can “swallow the frog” or strike back. The most tempting alternative is to hit the frog, to fight back and to engage in a battle against those who insulted us. But the best policy is often to just ignore the insult.

We believe in the Creator of the world, who understands every person and rewards or punishes each and every one according to his actions. If somebody harms us, the Almighty will make sure to punish him, in this world or in the next. If we will try to punish him ourselves and to fight for justice and righteousness, we may very quickly find that we are first and foremost harming ourselves.

And what about the insult? For this matter, the words of Rabbi Chaim Sabato are most appropriate: “If a person is honored in a way that seems to him to be more than he deserves he should not object. Rather, he should be aware that as compensation in the future he will be put to shame in a way that is not appropriate for him. Thus, he should realize that when he is given an undeserved honor he has an excess of credit. And when a jealous person puts him to shame, he should not be angry but he should realize that he is using up his extra credit. And in this way he will become calm.”

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.