Frog Fears or Crocodile Tears?
I would like to thank Ohr Somayach for the excellent and hard work done for the "Ask the Rabbi" column. I have learned much from your mailings. Speaking of which, I have a question. I understand that some commentaries interpret the word "tzfardeah" as "crocodile," and not like Rashi's interpretation of "frog." Who believes this way and why? Why has tzfardeah taken on the meaning of the word "frog" and not "crocodile?" Are there other places in the Tanach where the word tzfardeah appears? In what context? If applicable, does that word take on the meaning of "frog" or the meaning of "crocodile?"
The Abarbanel writes that tzfardeah means crocodile. There are two logical reasons to support this:
- The Egyptians worshipped a crocodile god. Therefore, in keeping with the purpose of the plagues - which was not only to punish but also to educate - the Egyptians were attacked by their very own god. This demonstrated Hashem's mastery over the Egyptian god.
- The verse in Tehillim says that Hashem sent "wild animals which consumed them, and tzfardeah which destroyed them." Frogs are not generally instruments of destruction, whereas crocodiles are.
Most commentaries disagree with this interpretation for several reasons:
- In describing the tzfardeah, the Torah writes that "they will come into your houses, your bedrooms and your beds...." The verse implies that the presence of the tzfardeah was the only source of the suffering. If it is was a crocodile plague, the suffering would consist of much more than the fact they filled the houses.
- The tzfardeah are described as "swarming." This word usually implies small creatures.
- Our Sages say that one aspect of the plague of tzfardeah was the incessant, maddening croaking noise. Frogs croak, whereas crocodiles smile.
- Abarbanel Commentary to the Torah
- Shemot 7:28, Tehillim105:30.
- Tehillim 78:45
- Rashi Shemot 8:17 citing Midrash Tanchuma