Parshas VaEira - Frog Lessons, Encouragement, Fire, Wind and Water

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 01/02/19

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1) Chananya, Misha’el and Azaria’s Frog Lesson

The second plauge (7:28) was that of Frogs. The pasuk says, “V’sharetz haye’or tzfardi’im,”  The Nile will bring forth the frogs.  “V’alu u’va’u veisecha”. Moshe was telling Pharaoh that they are going to come into your house, “u’v’cheder mashkevokavcha”, and in your bedroom, “v’al mitascha”, and on your bed.  “U’v’veis avadecha”, and in all the houses of your servants as well.  “u’v’amecha”, and in your nation, which some rishonim learn that it means inside you, “u’v’tanurecha”, and in your ovens, “u’v’misharusecha”, and in your mixing bowls.

The gemara in Pesachim (53b) asks that when Chananya, Misha’el and Azaria went into the fire pit of Nevuchadnetzar, they were moseir nafsham on Kiddush Hashem, what justification did they have in doing so? The gemara says that they made a kal v’chomer to themselves.  They said that look at the tzefardim, the frogs.  They are not metzuveh on kiddush Hashem.  They have no command or mitzvah of “v’nikdashti b’toch Bnei Yisrael”, and yet it says that they went inside the ovens and died, so certainly when it comes to us, who are commanded in kiddush Hashem, we must certainly jump into the fire. And so they went and Hashem miraculously saved them!

The Problem

The famous question on this, the kasha of the Shaagas Aryeh (1695 - 1785): Wait a minute, this kal va’chomer doesn’t seem accurate because it’s not true. The pasuk says explicitly that the frogs were indeed commanded, “u’v’tanurecha”.  They were commanded to enter the ovens, and so they were supposed to die, and so, therefore, this whole kal vachomer was incorrect. How do we explain the fact that Chananya, Mishael and Azarya stated that the frogs were not commanded to die?!

Proposed Answer

The story goes that the Shaagas Aryeh asked this question to a bunch of children, and they were stumped. They had no answer, and  a little named Eliyahu got up, of course, you know that this is the Vilna Gaon as a child, perhaps he was six or seven, and he said: “I have an answer. If you look at the pasuk, the frogs were given options as to where they could jump.  They could go into the households, mixing bowls or the ovens. Not all those options meant death.  And, so, therefore, it’s true that in general, some frogs had to go into the ovens, but each individual frog had the right to say: I wasn’t the one who was commanded to go into the oven! I don’t have to go. So, therefore, from the frogs who were not metzuveh in kiddush Hashem, some made a choice and they jumped into the fire.” (Now you could ask many questions on this: What do frogs know, etc.  And, that’s a whole different topic which is very fascinating in itself, but not for now.) The Shaagas Aryeh got up and gave him a kiss on the head, and said: “You will be a great person in Klal Yisrael!”

Leadership Trait

What did the Shages Aryeh see in the Gra? He probably saw a lot.  But, it wasn’t just his brilliance. It was young Eliyahu’s sensitivity and his sense of achrayus, responsibility. That is what the answer revealed. Each frog could have said: No me; I’m not responsible.  I don’t have to fulfill that command to die!” But, “u’v’tanurecha” was fulfilled by some noble frogs.  The fact that Hashem commanded that some frogs should go in the ovens, was only of concern to the frogs that stood up to the challenge. Those frogs jumped forward.

Someone who understands this concept, the younger the more better, his sense of achrayus towards Klal Yisrael and you become a “kol me she’oseik b’tzarchei tzibur b’emunah”, when you do for Klal Yisrael, the greater person you’ll become because you’ll understand what you’re here for. Ramchal says in Derech Hashem that the purpose of Olam Hazeh it gives an opportunity for shleimus, and the tzaddikim who help out other people, are mezakeh the rabbim, they are the people that will achieve the highest level in Olam Habah, and so that is the Vilna Gaon’s insight that he had from his youth, and now we see where his greatness, one of the places that his greatness came from.  Of course, it came from his yiras Shamayim and his hasmadah and good chinuch that was invested in him, and so many other factors as well, but this sense of achrayus for Hashem’s Will of “u’v’tanurecha” was profound. Hashem commanded something and I have to fulfill it, that is a sense of responsibility that all of us could try to emulate.

2) Giving Encouragement

One little interesting thing is that the Maharil Diskin al HaTorah brings down this vort, and he says that the Shaagas Aryeh asks this question, and he brings down the answer that the Shaagas Aryeh himself gave this answer.  Now, obviously, versions get changed over the years, and things get altered, but I would like to suggest that perhaps it is true.  Perhaps, the Shaagas Aryeh did give this answer, and little Eliyahu also thought of this answer too when it was posed! Instead of saying: that’s a great answer; I thought of it myself, he wanted to give the Vilna Gaon great encouragement and satisfaction knowing that this is a brilliant answer and he was so impressed by it. The point that I wanted to make is that we need to work on encouraging our children to feel good about themselves because that really brings to tremendous growth on their part and tremendous development.

3) Adnei Hasadeh Returns

We talked about this before, and I’ll just reference it that Hashem sent Arov, the mixed beasts, and the pasuk says, “v’gam ha’adamah asheir heim alehah” (Shemos 8:17).  They should bring the earth with them which rishonim explain simply means that they will bring their habitat with them. However, as I mentioned earlier, in parshas Toldos, this actually refers to the certain Adnei Hasadeh, an animal that the Vilna Gaon discusses there, and tied it into the pasuk that Yaakov is an “ish tam yoshei ohalim”, and Eisav was an “ish sadeh, ish yodei’ah tzayid”.  He knows how to capture this adnei hasadeh. See there for some interesting he’arahs over there about the significance of this animal.

4) “Es kol Mageifosi

“Ki l’fa’am hazos ani sholei’ach es kol mageifosi” (9:14). Hashem says that I’m going to send all of my makkos here, all of my punishment against Pharoah.  So, the question is: Why is this statement said specifically in this makah?  Now, if you look carefully, this was said in relation to barad, hail, but as the Gra and many of the rishonim this is not referring to the barad per say, it’s just Hashem telling Moshe: Tell Pharaoh that I’m going to hit you with all types of hits.  “Kol mageifosi”, all types of hits, and that is the way that everyone is going to see that there is no one like Me in the land, like the pasuk says, and then you will eventually break and let the nation leave. But, the Torah is not arbitrary, what is special about barad, hail, that it is referred to as “all My hits.”

Sukkah Protections

Says the Gra, and this is a Succos d’var Torah, but it’s really a brilliant one for all year round as well. The pasuk in Yeshayah 4:6 says, “v’succah t’hiyeh l’tzeil”.  Succah is a shade meichoreiv, to protect from heat, from wind, u’mei’matar, and from rain.  So, we have listed here: heat, fire, wind and water.

Hashem’s Exacting Account

The Midrash tells us, and the pasuk says explicitly that Hashem punishes those that go against him by fire, by wind and by water.  And, that’s what’s being said over here.  For example, in Sedom Hashem punished them with fire.  “Gafris v’melach, sereifah kol ha’artza”, and by the mabul it was water, and by the dor haflagah it was wind.  Hashem dispersed them. Mitzrayim got all three.  Why?  Says the Gra, and this could be explained in many ways, but says the Gra (in Yeshayahu on that pasuk) Dam and tzfardei’ah were both water makkos. Arbeh, the locusts, was b’ruach, wind.  Shechin was fire. And Barad is with all three together. Wind, water and fire, and that’s the p’shat over here. So, that’s “es kol mageifosi”.  I’m going to send all my means of punishment against you.

Three Sukkah Walls

Now, says the Gra further, in other places:  There are three walls that make up a succah.  The gemara says that’s the minimum requirement. It’s to protect from these three puraniyos, from these three punishments. From wind, water and heat. (If you look in Succah 6b, and the Yerushalyi in Succah 3a, you will find very interesting remazim to this.)

Lack of Keeping Word

Chazal say that there’s a mi she’parah. If someone doesn’t keep his word, but is not under contract enforceable obligation, he gets this statement said to him (in or out of court, according to various opinions). Sometimes it can’t be upheld in court, but a person is allowed to give you a “mi she’parah” which is not a mishabeirach.  It’s similar.  It’s when they make a statement that says: This person didn’t keep your word, and G-d is going to pay you back.  What’s the “mi she’parah”?  It’s a mishna in Bava Metzia 4b. The mishna says that if he doesn’t keep his word, we say to him: “Mi she’parah, the G-d who paid back dor hamabul and the Dor Haflagah and the anshei Sedom and paid back Mitzrayim, He will pay back he who does not keep his word.” What does this mean?

Says the Gra a brilliant thought. What’s going on over here? The dor hamabul, they were paid back with water, and the Dor Haflagah, they were paid back with wind, like we said, and the anshei Sedom was punished with fire, and in Mitzrayim it was all three of them like we just said, barad and all the makkos in general.

Person’s Words Have Heat, Water and Wind

This person didn’t keep his word.  What is one’s word made up of?  Our words are made up of those three ingredients. There’s fire, heat, that comes up.  There’s water, saliva. And, there’s air, wind. That’s how we make words. Therefore, middah k’neged middah, this person that doesn’t keep his word, Hashem is the one that pays him back and holds him accountable.  That’s what the misheparah curse is, rachmanah l’tzlan, if someone doesn’t keep their word, we can’t get the money out of him necessarily; we can’t force him to do something that they refuse to do, but we can give him “mi shehparah”, and again, don’t pasken when this applies, but we see the severity and the importance of keeping our word.

Pharaoh Lied

Pharaoh himself got hit with all these things because he himself didn’t keep his word.  “Asheir lo yadah es Yosef”.  He had committed himself to Yosef, but he forgot.  And, like the Midrash says:  He didn’t just forget. He forgot on purpose because he didn’t want to lose his power. Rabbeinu Bachayeh brings this down in the beginning of Parshas Shemos that Pharaoh said: Mi Hashem?  Who is this Hashem?  And, Hashem said: Mi atah poreiah.  And the medrash says that he who is kofeir b’tovaso shel chaveiro, he who denied the good that this friend does to him. Yosef didn’t do anything for us.  He didn’t build up the country, and make us a world power, so he will come to deny the good that Hashem does to him as well, and that’s Pharaoh who said: Mi Hashem. The whole tikkun is that we are omeid b’diburo.  We work on telling the truth.

Succos and Year Round

This is a beautiful lesson for Succos, says Gra. The importance of “Succah t’hi’yeh l’tzeil yomam”.  The succah protects from these three things: from fire, wind, and water. The Jews were taken out of Egypt because of their keeping their word and being faithful to Hashem. Thus they were protected from the three damaging elements.

May we be zocheh to be inspired by the beautiful words of the Vilna Gaon and to be omeid b’dibureinu, to stand behind our own integrity and to always speak emes and to live a life of emes.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rabbi and psychotherapist. Subscribe at ParshaThemes.com