SALT - Wednesday, 25 Tevet 5780 - January 22, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the question addressed by several commentators regarding Moshe’s prayer to God to end the second plague that He brought upon Egypt – the plague of frogs.  Pharaoh frantically summoned Moshe and Aharon, and begged them to petition God to put an end to the plague.  Moshe responded by inviting Pharaoh to choose when he wanted the plague to end – presumably, to demonstrate God’s unlimited power, and to prove that this was not some natural occurrence which Moshe accurately predicted.  Pharaoh said he wanted the plague to end the following day, the Moshe then left the palace and “cried to the Lord” (8:8), pleading with God to eliminate the frogs at the time Pharaoh wanted.  God accepted Moshe’s plea, and ended the plague the next day.  A number of commentators raised the question of why specifically in this instance the Torah speaks of Moshe “crying” (“va-yitz’ak”), indicating that he desperately pleaded to God, something which he did not feel compelled to do during any of the other plagues.
            A number of commentators suggested that Moshe “cried” because he was requesting something additional, beyond that which was planned or expected.  Malbim (expanding on the theory proposed by Seforno, which we mentioned yesterday) writes that whereas the other nine plagues ended completely, Moshe made a special request concerning the frogs – “rak ba-ye’or tisha’arna,” that the frogs in the river should remain (8:7).  According to Malbim, these “tzefarde’im” (“frogs”) which spread throughout Egypt were actually a new creature that had never existed previously.  Malbim arrives at this conclusion based on the verb “sharatz” with which Moshe predicts the river’s producing the “tzefarde’im” (7:28) – the same verb used in reference to God’s creation of sea creatures (Bereishit 1:20-21).  This parallel, Malbim writes, indicates that God brought a new creature into existence, just as He had done at the time of the world’s creation.  And, since these were new creatures which came into existence specifically at this time to punish the Egyptians, Moshe wanted some to remain as an eternal reminder of this miraculous plague brought upon Egypt.  He therefore “cried” to God and begged that although the plague was to have been eliminated entirely, God would allow the “tzefarde’im” in the river to remain alive.  (Malbim’s comments touch upon the broader issue as to what the “tzefarde’im” actually were.  While it’s commonly assumed that they were frogs, Rabbeinu Chananel and Abarbanel maintained that they were deadly crocodiles.  Malbim (7:27) writes that this plague included both – frogs which left the river and spread throughout the country, and crocodiles which remained in the river as a frightening commemoration of this plague.)
            Abarbanel explains that Moshe had presumed that the plague of frogs – like the first plague, the plague of blood – was to have lasted for seven days, but Moshe nevertheless boldly assured Pharaoh, on his own, that the plague would end when Pharaoh wanted, without waiting seven days.  He therefore pleaded with God to grant his wish and end the plague earlier than it was to have ended.
            Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains along generally similar lines, though he emphasizes the fact that Moshe’s response to Pharaoh marked the first time Moshe acted towards Pharaoh independently, and not as God’s agent.  Until now, Moshe spoke to Pharaoh only that which God told Moshe to speak.  But during the plague of frogs, when Pharaoh summoned Moshe to the palace, Moshe made the independent decision to promise to end the plague when Pharaoh wished, without having been told by God when and how the plague would end.  Rav Hirsch thus suggests that because this was Moshe’s first independent act, which entailed a degree of risk, he “cried” to God, begging Him to fulfill his word to Pharaoh.