SALT - Tuesday, 24 Tevet 5780 - January 21, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah tells in Parashat Vaera (8:8) that after the second plague that descended upon Egypt, the plague of frogs, Moshe “cried to the Lord regarding the matter of the frogs” – referring to Moshe’s promise to Pharaoh that he would end the plague the following day.  God accepted Moshe’s prayer, and the frogs died at the designated time.
            A number of commentators raised the question of why the Torah speaks of Moshe “crying” to God to end the plague – an expression not used in regard to the end of any other of the ten plagues.  Why specifically did this plague require Moshe to “cry” and beg God to kill the frogs?
            One possibility is offered by Seforno, who notes the Gemara’s comment (Sanhedrin 64a and elsewhere) that “half is not given from the heavens” – meaning, God generally does not normally grant a “partial” request.  Moshe wanted God to eliminate the frogs only partially – as he asked that the frogs in the river would remain (“rak ba-ye’or tisha’arna” – 8:7).  As God does not generally grant such precise requests, this request required an especially intense, impassioned prayer, and the Torah therefore describes Moshe as “crying” to God to eliminate the frogs.
            Siftei Chakhamim offers a different answer, explaining this term (“va-yitz’ak”) to mean that Moshe needed to raise his voice.  As the Shulchan Arukh rules (O.C. 101:2), it is proper when praying to recite the prayer audibly, such that one can hear the words (but not loudly).  During the plague of frogs, Siftei Chakhamim writes, the noise of the frogs croaking throughout Egypt was deafening, such that Moshe needed to shout so he could hear the words of his prayer.  For this reason, the Torah writes, “Va-yitz’ak Moshe” – that Moshe “shouted” to God.
            Rav Shraga Schneebalg, in his Shraga Ha-Meir (7:139), references Siftei Chakhamim’s comments in addressing the question of whether a hearing-impaired individual must pray loudly so he can hear the words.  The halakha in this case would appear to hinge on the conceptual question of whether the requirement is to actually hear one’s words, or to recite the words in a manner that is audible under normal conditions.  Siftei Chakhamim’s remarks regarding Moshe’s prayer might indicate that one must actually hear the words recited, such that Moshe needed to “shout” so he could hear his prayer over the din of the frogs’ croaking.  If so, then a hearing-impaired individual, too, might perhaps be required to pray loudly so he could hear the words he recites.
            However, Rav Schneebalg refutes this proof, noting that other explanations exist for the Torah’s description of Moshe’s prayer to end the plague of frogs.  Beyond the other suggestions offered by the commentators, Rav Schneebalg proposes that Moshe needed to “shout” so his voice would be heard over the ruckus of the frogs in order to make it clear that his prayer is what brought an end to the plague.  As the purpose of the plagues was to demonstrate God’s unlimited power, it was necessary for Moshe to publicize his prayer, to show that the plague was ended by the Almighty, and not by any other force.
            As for the final halakha, Rav Schneebalg rules that since the Shulchan Arukh writes explicitly that one may not raise his voice when praying, and that one who does not hear his prayer nevertheless fulfills his requirement, an individual with hearing impairment should not pray loudly, and should instead pray quietly without hearing the recitation.  When it comes to the recitation of Shema, however, which also is to be recited audibly (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 62:3), one should recite the text loudly enough that he can hear it.  (Rav Asher Anshel Schwartz, in Ma’adanei Asher, Parashat Vaera, 5779, cites those who disagree, and require even for prayer reciting the text loudly enough to hear the words, even if one has a hearing impairment or is praying in a place with background noise.)