Parashas Vaeira

This week’s parashah presents the first seven of the ten plagues, the second of which is the plague of frogs. The Torah relates (Shemos 8:2): “Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs ascended (ותעל הצפרדע) and covered the land of Egypt.” Here the Torah uses the singular noun הצפרדע to denote a group of frogs. This type of usage is standard in Hebrew, but here the Midrash interprets the singular noun הצפרדע as conveying a special message (Tanchuma, Vaeira 14): “R. Akiva says, ‘It was a single frog, and the Egyptians hit it [repeatedly] and it spouted forth many frogs.” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaAhavah, chapter 4, the Maggid adopts this teaching as a metaphor to convey a lesson about the futility of pursuing worldly gains.
In Avos 2:7, the Sages say: “One who increases his assets increases his worry.” And in Koheles Rabbah 3:12 they say: “No person leaves the world with [even] half his desires satisfied. If a person has one hundred, he wants to make it two hundred. And if a person has two hundred, he wants to make it four hundred.” The message is that since a person cannot acquire every possible worldly possession, the quest for worldly possessions cannot lead to satisfaction. Just as when the Egyptians hit the frog it produced more frogs, so, too, when a person fulfills one worldly wish, more worldly wishes are generated. The more worldly success a person gains, the more he is caught up in anguish and toil, and the process continues until the person ravages his soul.
The Maggid traces how the burden of worldly assets develops over the course of a person’s life. When a person is a small child, all he wishes for is food. As he gets older, more wishes surface. When he gets married, he has to work to support himself and his wife, and in his continual striving for a higher standard of living, he has to work continually harder. At certain point, he feels a wish to buy his own house. Once he buys a house, he wishes to furnish it in a way that suits him, and this leads him to expend more effort making money to invest in his house. Over time, he acquires more and more wealth and possessions, which require more and more of his attention. When his holdings reach a certain magnitude, he has to hire servants to help manage them, which means that he now also has to take care of the needs of these servants. He is now engulfed in worries. Every day, a new worry crops up: A servant gets sick, or one of the animals in his herds gets sick, or he loses something, or something breaks, or his servants start stealing (“The more servants, the more theft” – Avos 2:7) or they slack off on the job, or he suffers some other loss. The more worldly assets a person has, the heavier the yoke is upon him, and the less peace of mind and happiness he feels. The only way out of this cycle is to decide firmly to limit one’s assets to the minimum necessary to meet one’s genuine needs.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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