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"Ribbit,Ribbit, Ribbit!"

01/13/2021 12:25:50 PM

Jan13

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Va-Eira, we read the following: HaShem said to Moshe: “Come to Par’oh and say to him: ‘Thus says Hashem: “Let My people go that they may serve me.  If You refuse to let them go, then I will plague your whole country with frogs.  The Nile will swarm with frogs, and they shall come up and enter your palace, your bedchamber and your bed, the houses of your courtiers and your people, and your ovens and your kneading bowls.  The frogs shall come up in you and in your people and in all your courtiers.”’” (Shemot 7:26-29)

Needless-to-say, most people do not like frogs let alone swarms of frogs.  But it might surprise you to learn that our Tradition looks at frogs in a totally different way.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov wrote an entire discourse on the “inner meaning” of the frog stating that frogs allude to the scholars of Torah.  The Sages of the Talmud also had praise for the lowly frog.  In Masekhet Pesachim 56 of the Talmud Bavli we are told that Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria derived from a frog the inner strength to throw themselves into the fiery furnace rather than to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol.  They reasoned that because the frogs had the dedication to follow Hashem’s will throwing themselves into the Egyptians’ ovens during the time of the Ten Plagues, they, too, must do the same based upon the fact that they were Hashem’s creation on a much higher level than that of a frog.  The Midrash tells us that more than anything else, the croaking of the frogs is what drove the Egyptians out of their minds.  So it is that at face value, the importance of the frog may be greatly underestimated by the text of the Torah.  Perhaps this Chasidic parable will help us to understand that rather than its outer appearance, the frog’s inner significance is what is most important:

Nosson Nuta lived in a broken-down clapboard and tarpaper shack at the end of the village.  No one paid the slightest attention to this semi-toothed, curved-spine, near-sighted cobbler of 73 years of age.  He barely eked out a living mending old shoes and boots.  More than anyone else, he bore the brunt of the village children’s pranks and their parents’ disdain.  In the local Synagogue, Nosson Nuta was never called to the Torah, because in the eyes of his neighbors and fellow Jews, he was merely one small rung above the lowest beggar.  Since he could not afford to pay for a better seat, they forced him to sit in the back of the shul next to the sooty furnace.  However, in spite of all this, Nosson Nuta accepted his lot of great humiliation and incessant insults with happiness.  He seemed to enjoy the mocking and jokes made at his expense.

The thatched-roofed houses of the Central Ukraine were notorious fire hazards.  Because of this, every village knew that it would have to be rebuilt every couple of years or so.  Strangely, there had not been a fire in Nosson Nuta’s village for over 12 years, the very time when he first arrived as a widower having recently lost his wife.  Not only that, there had not been a pogrom or a miscarriage of justice in the village during the same time period as well.  The people of the village attributed their good fortune to their own righteousness.  However, they were in for a rude awakening!

One winter evening, Nosson Nuta closed his eyes for the final time.  When he did not show up for minyan the next morning, no one paid any attention, this in spite of the fact that he had never failed to pray 3 times each day with the Synagogue’s minyan.  When he failed to arrive in shul on the second morning, the village Rabbi decided he had better inquire as to the elderly cobbler’s well-being.  When he discovered the fate of Nosson Nuta, the Rabbi immediately summoned the Chevra Kaddisha in order for its members to come and perform their required sacred duties.  The did so perfunctorily.  They buried Nosson Nuta at the northern end of the cemetery in the paupers’ section.  No one considered the funeral of the deceased cobbler to be a good enough reason to close up shop for an hour in order to attend.  There were not even 10 men at the funeral, and Kaddish could not be recited.

That very same night, with the soil on Nosson Nuta’s grave still fresh, a band of bloodthirsty Cossacks descended upon the village, indiscriminately killing anyone and burning and pillaging anything they could get their hands on.  The village became a charred ruin, and those who had refused to attend Nosson Nuta’s funeral were now occupied with burying their own dead.  The only building which escaped the terrible fate of the pogrom was the village Synagogue.  After the half-dozen funerals, the Rabbi and the beadle went to inspect the shul to ascertain the damage.  Barukh HaShem, the shtiebel’s 5 Sifrei Torah were not touched.  Their beautiful silver ornaments were totally intact.  “How strange,” thought the Rabbi, “that the Cossacks did not enter the Synagogue like they had done during other pogroms in other villages.”  He felt as though some unknown guardian angel had protected the Aron HaKodesh, the Sifre Torah, and the rest of the Synagogue.  Suddenly the beadle asked, “What’s this?”  He pointed to a tin box that was concealed in the Holy Ark behind the Torah scrolls.  “I do not know,” replied the Rabbi as he pried the box open.  Inside, there were two stacks of fine parchment containing beautifully handwritten Rashi Hebrew script.  The Rabbi’s eyes suddenly opened very wide and his jaw fell wide open.  While he could not understand everything he read, he gleaned enough from the papers to know that they contained an eye-opening Kabbalistic commentary on one of Hashem’s Holy Names.  It was obvious that the author could swim like a fish in the sea of the Torah’s deepest secrets with ease.  The Rabbi slowly turned page after page, and then he saw the signature: Nosson Nuta ben Dov Ber.  It hit the Rabbi like a ton of bricks!  The elderly cobbler had been a hidden tzaddik and a scholar of monumental proportions!  It is then that the Rabbi understood why the village had been spared being subjected to pogroms for a dozen years as well as why the Synagogue had been spared the night before!

          We live in a world that is filled with the shallowness of glorifying that which is shines with the glitter of a beautiful façade.  Our Tradition teaches us that it is inner beauty that is most important.  The passage quoted from this week’s parshah teaches us that while the frog may be ugly and revolting on the outside, few creatures praise Hashem and serve H-m with such dedication.  May all of us do the same!    

   

Sun, March 7 2021 23 Adar 5781