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Parshas Vaera

Remember the Frogs

By Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich

“Daddy?”

It starts with an innocent question from the back seat, on the way home from school.

“Can we get some ice cream?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetheart,” we’ll say politely, “it’s almost time for dinner. Maybe we can go another time.”

“I really want to go! Why can’t we? I’ll just get one scoop. I promise I’ll still be hungry for dinner.”

“I told you already,” we say with a little less sweetness. “Not today.”

“I really, really want to go! You never let me do anything! My friends always get ice cream after school. Can’t we just go today? It will be quick. Can we, please? Can we, can we?

“No!” we roar back. “I answered you already! Now stop asking me!”

Splitting Frogs

Our Sages tell us that the second plague in this week’s Parsha began with one, large frog that emerged from the Nile. Every time the Egyptians would hit it, this large frog would split into more and more frogs, until it had been struck so many times that the entire land of Egypt was covered with frogs.

For years, I struggled to understand this particular saying of the Sages. How long did it take the Egyptians to learn? Didn’t they realize that hitting the frog was counter-productive, that the more they hit it, the more frogs emerged? It just didn’t make sense to me.

And then I had children.

Out of Control

Imagine Achmid the Egyptian in his house during the Second Plague. A frog sits perched atop his dining room table. Achmid remembers well what happened the last time he hit a frog. He is determined to outwit and outlast this one.

“Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.”

“You know what it’s trying to do,” Achmid says to himself. “Be strong!” But the croaking is incessant. The frog disturbs his sleep at night and doesn’t allow him to think during the day. “Remain calm,” Achmid says to himself. “You can do this.”

“Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.”

It doesn’t stop. The frog is persistent. The croaking is relentless. The point comes when Achmid just can’t take it anymore. “Please,” he begs and pleads, “Can’t you just leave me alone for a few minutes?” The frog smiles politely.

“Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.”

He grabs a stick and in a fit of madness strikes at it. Intellectually, he knows that nothing good will come of it. But he is so irritated by the noise and so aggravated by his inability to make the frog go away, he simply can’t control himself. He’s not acting or thinking rationally. He just wants it to stop. In reality, though, all he does is make the plague even worse.

Children, not Frogs

Our children often act as children typically do - they want our attention, they want our love, they want answers to their questions. And until they get what they want, they will continually ask for it, over and over and over again. Three year olds are relentless in their ability to repeatedly ask the same question until they are answered (however long it takes their parent, who is distracted by an email, to realize that he or she is being spoken to). They will continue to “request” whatever it is they want, as if the answer of “No” that they received the first time was somehow spoken in a foreign language. That’s what children do in their hope and desire to get what they want. They believe (not maliciously, just through their experiences) that they will somehow get us to change our minds - or that we’ll lose it and just give in.

As parents, we might get frustrated or irritated by the incessant “noise” our children create. Can’t they just leave us alone, if only for a few minutes? Is a little peace and quiet too much to ask for?

There is a beautiful lesson in the frogs. It is a reminder, actually, of what we look like when we lash out in response to their repeated questions or requests. We’re out of control, irrational. We just want them to stop. “Enough! Stop asking me already!” we scream. But verbally striking at them is counter-productive: We yearn for a peaceful and calm home. The louder we get, the farther from that goal we find ourselves.

It’s our job to learn how to respond correctly and calmly to them. “I’ve answered that already,” we can calmly say. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They only ask repeatedly hoping to get a different answer out of us. Our children deserve a polite response that is firm and consistent. It’s not worth asking again, we declare to them, because we will not lose it. We will remain in control and consistently give you the same sweet response each time you ask. (And it goes without saying that they deserve a loving response when they are only whining at us because we didn’t answer or hear them the first 10 times they called our names).

Our children are blessings, not a plague. The more we remember that, the better we’ll respond to them!

Good Shabbos.



 


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