Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Va`era: How Did One Frog Become Many?

There are two midrashic explanations offered as to how the one frog multiplied into many frogs.
Midrash Rabba Shemot parasha 10:

וַתַּעַל הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ וַתְּכַס אֶת וגו' תני רבי עקיבא אומר צפרדע אחת היתה והיא
השריצה ומלאה את ארץ מצרים אמר לו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה עקיבא מה לך אצל הגדה כלה מדברותיך ולך אצל נגעים ואהלות צפרדע אחת היתה ושרקה להן ובאו.

Shemot 7:27-28
וְאִם-מָאֵן אַתָּה, לְשַׁלֵּחַ: הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי, נֹגֵף אֶת-כָּל-גְּבוּלְךָ--בַּצְפַרְדְּעִים.
וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ; וּבְבֵית עֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמֶּךָ, וּבְתַנּוּרֶיךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶיךָ
"And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs.
And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bed-chamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs."
Shemot 8:2-4:
וַיֵּט אַהֲרֹן אֶת-יָדוֹ, עַל מֵימֵי מִצְרָיִם; וַתַּעַל, הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ, וַתְּכַס, אֶת-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמֶר הַעְתִּירוּ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְיָסֵר הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, מִמֶּנִּי וּמֵעַמִּי; וַאֲשַׁלְּחָה, אֶת-הָעָם, וְיִזְבְּחוּ, ה.
"And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.
And the magicians did in like manner with their secret arts, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said: 'Entreat the LORD, that He take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice unto the LORD.'"
'And the frog[s] came up, and (it) covered, etc'. A brayta (See Sanhedrin page 67): R Akiva says, a single frog there was and she multiplied and filled the land of Egypt.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said to him, Akiva, what have you to do with Haggada? End your words and go to (the Laws) of (the impurities) of Skin Ailments and Tents. (Rather,) there was a single frog and she whistled* to them and they came.

Tanchuma Vaera, 14:

כתוב אחד אומר וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וכתוב אחד אומר וַתַּעַל הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ. רבי עקיבא אומר, צפרדע אחת היתה, והיו המצרים מכין אותה ומתזת צפרדעים הרבה.

One verse states 'And the river shall swarm with frogs' and the other verse states, 'And the frog(s) came up.' Rabbi Akiva says, it was a single frog, and the Egyptians hit it, and it spit out many frogs.
On a peshat level, it is easy to say that the singular הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ is a collective noun to refer to all the frogs, and that there are other Biblical instances of the same. But on a midrashic level, it is fitting to note the distinction and draw something from it.

In terms of textual derivation of "whistled," I did mention a possible one:
Well, the verb is שרקה, whistled. I would claim there is a drash from Sharatz, with the emphatic Tzadi switching with the emphatic Kuf. R Akiva says צפרדע אחת היתה והיא השריצה, there was one frog and she hishritza, multiplied. R Elazar ben Azarya says צפרדע אחת היתה ושרקה להן ובאו, there was one frog and she sharqa, whisted. This would be based on the earlier pasuk, in which Moshe promised: וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ.
I'm not sure of the textual basis of the Egyptians striking the frog is, or if one exists. However, what I'd like to cover here is why Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer arrived at there particular reasons for the frog multiplying, on a thematic level.

To my mind, the fertility represented by frogs (as mentioned earlier, Heqet, the Egyptian's frog deity, was the goddess of fertility -- but this is not even necessary, as there is enough in the Torah's narrative itself) is supposed to parallel the Egyptians attitude towards the Israelites, who they felt were overrunning Egypt. As we read in the first perek of Shemot:
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. {פ} 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. {P}
Note the word וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ, just as is used by the frogs. This is middah kineged middah for the Egyptian attitude and actions.

For Rabbi Akiva, the parallel is to the Egyptian oppression of the Israelites. Thus:
יב וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ; וַיָּקֻצוּ, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel.
is said about Israel, and Rabbi Akiva states that the Egyptians would apply the same attitude and course of action to the frog, to the same effect, of causing the multiplication.

Rabbi Eliezer takes a different parallel. Besides the derivation of sharatz/ sharak, I believe that he considers the first frog to be Yosef. Yosef gained a foothold in Egypt. But then, he "whistled," and his relatives came from Canaan to overrun Egypt. Perhaps this too, can be read into the first perek of Shemot, which starts with Yosef and the 70 souls who came there, and leads to the attitude that the Israelites are too many.
ה וַיְהִי, כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ-יַעֲקֹב--שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ; וְיוֹסֵף, הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls; and Joseph was in Egypt already.
ו וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל-אֶחָיו, וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. {פ} 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. {P}
ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ, עַל-מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף. 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.
ט וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-עַמּוֹ: הִנֵּה, עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--רַב וְעָצוּם, מִמֶּנּוּ. 9 And he said unto his people: 'Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us;
If there is this thematic element at play, did Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya intend their respective midrashim literally, historically, as well? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Perhaps since Hashem works via middah kineged middah so as to send messages with His punishments, this was a way of doing so. Or perhaps the midrash is just an effective way to convey the deeper theme, but they actually held that a multitude of frogs historically came up from the river.

4 comments:

me said...

acc to this, why do you think RE is so dismissive of RA's pshat?

joshwaxman said...

I'm not sure, but I can think of three possibilities:

1) This is par for the course, part of the regular milchamtah shel Torah, approaching Torah discussions as a battle. And we find other harsh language, such as between Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan. This was just such a memorable quote -- "don't quit your day job" -- that it was recorded together with the two opinions.

2) There was a rivalry between those who focused on midrash halacha and those who focused on midrash aggada. Rabbi Zera said famously that midrash aggada is valueless (though there are caveats), and one writer of a book midrash was cursed and died.

It could be that here, Rabbi Akiva was making a foray into the realm of midrash aggada, and one who did this professionally told him that this was not for amateurs, and so, in disagreeing with him, added that he should stick to midrash halacha.

3) Whether intended literally or thematically, a careful analysis of a midrash usually reveals that *every single detail* of the midrash has a basis in a textual hook.

For example, see this poston parshablog, reading from "Let us now turn to consider some of the midrashim."

Both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya have the textual hook of a single frog in one pasuk and multiple frogs in another. But while Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya has his textual hook of sharatz/sharak for the whistling frog, Rabbi Akiva appears to lack this, and instead *only* has the thematic connection to the beating of the Israelites. (Middah kineged middah is a middah sheHaTorah nidreshet bah, but REbA also has this, and furthermore that is not the same as a textual hook.) Of course, just because I cannot identify the textual hook does not mean that there was none -- this can easily be my own limitation. But if the hook is missing, this could be why Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria rejects Rabbi Akiva's position so forcefully, telling him that midrash aggada is not for amateurs.

Even not according to this, how would you read Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah's dismissive attitude?

Kol Tuv,
Josh

Anonymous said...

וַתַּעַל הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ וַתְּכַס אֶת וגו' תני רבי עקיבא אומר צפרדע אחת היתה והיא
השריצה ומלאה את ארץ מצרים אמר לו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה עקיבא מה לך אצל הגדה כלה מדברותיך ולך אצל נגעים ואהלות צפרדע אחת היתה ושרקה להן ובאו.

here you see v'hi hishritza with rebenazarya's dismissal

I dont have a theory, but you do see r akiva singled out and told to go back to halacha by different figures, it's something specific to r akiva. it's not unique to relazerben azarya and r akiva. It could be your number two, but why specifically r akiva? a theory would have to accomodate all the instances.

joshwaxman said...

Who are the different figures? All I see is Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, though with slightly different accounts of Rabbi Akiva's derasha. And always by the same figure, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya. (Unless I am missing some source, which is possible.)

But I do think you are on to something. This is a saying specific to Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria. He says the same thing on a totally different derasha of Rabbi Akiva, on Chagiga 14a (and Sanhedrin 38b):

תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף יד עמוד א

ואין לך נאה במלחמה אלא בחור. כתוב אחד אומר +דניאל ז'+ כרסיה שביבין דנור וכתוב אחד אומר +דניאל ז'+ עד די כרסון רמיו ועתיק יומין יתב! - לא קשיא: אחד לו ואחד לדוד. כדתניא: אחד לו ואחד לדוד, דברי רבי עקיבא. אמר לו רבי יוסי הגלילי: עקיבא! עד מתי אתה עושה שכינה חול! אלא: אחד לדין ואחד לצדקה. קיבלה מיניה או לא קיבלה מיניה? - תא שמע: אחד לדין ואחד לצדקה, דברי רבי עקיבא. אמר לו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: עקיבא! מה לך אצל הגדה? כלך מדברותיך אצל נגעים ואהלות. אלא: אחד לכסא ואחד לשרפרף, כסא - לישב עליו, שרפרף - להדום רגליו, שנאמר +ישעיהו ס"ו+ השמים כסאי והארץ הדם רגלי.

It looks like Rabbi Yossi haGelili felt free to criticize Rabbi Akiva's derasha in strong and familiar terms, though he does not specifically say "don't quit your day job." That specific rejoinder seems specific to Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah.

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