#69 - Sanhedrin 65-71
The Frog that Whistled
The second of the ten plagues that G-d inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians who stubbornly refused to let their Israelite slaves go free was that of frogs invading their homes, their bedrooms and their kitchens. But when Aaron, at G-ds command, stretched out his miracle-making staff over the waters of Egypt, the Torah informs us that "the frog (singular) arose and covered the land of Egypt" (Shmot 8:2).
Both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah concluded from this use of the singular form that it was really one frog which came up from the river. But while the former states that this single frog suddenly gave birth to an army of frogs numerous enough to fill Egypt, the latter contends that this frog whistled and all the frogs throughout the world heard this signal and converged upon Egypt.
The commentaries note that there are several examples of the Torah using a singular term to designate the species even when the reference is to a multiple of that species (see Shmot 8:13 re "louse" for lice and Bamidbar 21:7 re "snake" for snakes).
What compelled the aforementioned sages to interpret the word "frog" literally and provide an extra dimension of miracle to this plague?
A most interesting solution is provided by Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto (RYAP) in his commentary on Ein Yaakov. In regard to the first plague of Egypts waters turning into blood, the Torah tells us (Shmot 7:21) that the fish in the river died as a result. If the fish died because the water was uninhabitable, he projects, we must assume that the frogs also perished since their principal habitat is the water. Therefore, it would be impossible for a host of frogs to suddenly come up out of the river. The Sages therefore concluded that it was indeed a single frog survivor who came forward, and they differ only in regard to how it multiplied so quickly into an entire army.
Maharsha notes the connection between this discussion of frog multiplication and an earlier discussion on this page regarding the third plague of lice. When Pharaohs sorcerers, who doubted Divine intervention and had duplicated the first two plagues through their own magical manipulation of demons, realized their inability to match this plague, they admitted to their king that "this was the finger of G-d" (Shmot 8:15). While Rabbi Elazar explains that demons are not capable of creating something as tiny as lice, Rabbi Papa takes the position that they are not capable of creating anything, only in causing elements to gather together. Although these demons could succeed in achieving this in regard to blood and frogs they had no power to do so with lice. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah favors the approach of the frog whistling because such a gathering of frogs made the sorcerers believe they could succeed in also gathering together the frogs from all over. But if the frog reproduced in the manner suggested by Rabbi Akiva this would have been a creative feat beyond their powers and they should have then admitted it was not magic but the "finger of G-d".
Learning for Learnings Sake
This perek of Mesechta Sanhedrin deals with a Torah chapter of an unusual nature. So unusual, in fact, that two leading Sages declared that its laws were never applied and never would be.
This is the chapter of the rebellious son (Devarim 21:18-21) who is to be executed as a preemptive action because his behavior of hedonism and dishonesty is certain to lead him to eventually murder in order to satisfy his desire. Rabbi Yehudas reason for this never happening is his interpretation of the Torahs requirement that both of the rebels parents, who must be the ones who take the initiative of bringing him before the court for initial disciplining, must be similar in voice, appearance and height. Such a similarity is virtually impossible. (In his footnote on our gemara the BACH points out that for a man and woman to have similar voices would necessitate excessive femininity on the part of the man or excessive masculinity on the part of the woman which would eliminate the possibility of their having children.)
Rabbi Shimon rejects the possibility of this taking place because it is unimaginable that any parents would actually initiate a process leading to the execution of their son merely because he stole money from them and indulged in some meat and wine.
Both of them, however, concur that despite the fact that the laws of the rebellious son would never be applied they appear in the Torah in order that we "analyze and gain our reward". The same perspective is presented by other Sages in regard to the law concerning a city in which the majority of the populace has been subverted to idolatry (Devarim 13:13-19) and the law of a house on whose walls a leprosy-like blotch appears (Vayikra 14:33-53). Twice again we are informed that although these laws never were and never will be applied they were recorded in the Torah for us to analyze and be rewarded.
Two different explanations are offered by the commentaries for the value of such study and analysis which will not lead to actual practice. One is that every law in the Torah is an expression of G-d and that the study of it enables one to, as it were, attach himself to Divine intelligence even if he never reaches practical application of that law. This is why the angels thought the Torah should be given to them rather than to mortals (Mesechta Shabbat 88b). Although they were incapable of practical fulfillment, as Moshe pointed out to them in his winning argument, they believed that their exalted spiritual nature endowed them with a superior capacity to grasp its spiritual-intellectual dimension.
Another approach is that there are important lessons to learn from each of these laws despite the fact that the Torah made it technically impossible for them to be practiced. The importance of disciplining a child at an early age is learned from the chapter of the rebellious son. From the chapter of the subverted city we learn the necessity of rigorous action to eliminate a spiritual cancer in a nation. From the chapter of an afflicted home we learn the evil of miserliness which is the cause of such an affliction.