Through The Eyes of a Woman
Va'eira: Blood and Frogs
All the "stories" related in Torah are not written primarily for their historic
value, although they were real events which did in fact take place. Rather, they
represent concepts and ideas which are eternally relevant, in every generation
and in every country. Consider the concept of Mitzrayim (Egypt), for example.
The word Mitzrayim comes from the word meitzar, limitation, and is
related to the words tzar (narrow), tzarah (suffering), etc. Thus
Mitzrayim represents (spiritual) limitation, to the point of confinement
and even suffering. This does not only apply to the history of enslavement of the
Jewish people in Egypt, but also to any situation in the life of a Jew where he
feels boxed in by some obstacle and he doesn't see a way to get out of it. He doesn't
feel himself free; he feels confined.
Every Jew has his Mitzrayim, depending on his level. For a person who
is just starting out in Yiddishkeit, his limitations and difficulties are
entirely different from the obstacles of a person who is seventy years old, and
close to being a tzaddik. Each of them has their difficulties, each of them
has their obstacles, but they are entirely different. For one person it's his family.
It's his family's mockery, their attitude towards him which is stifling him. He's
afraid of what people are going to say. This is a real-life situation for thousands
of people and it's a real Mitzrayim, it's a real confinement. For somebody
else, who's on a much higher level, his problem could be his desire to sit in isolation
and learn Torah rather than go out and spread Torah and mitzvos. The Rebbe
calls this type of Mitzrayim "Mitzrayim dikedushah" -- limitations
within the realm of holiness, as opposed to Mitzrayim dikelipah --
the limitations placed on a Jew by the realms of unholiness -- in other
words, the yetzer hara, a person's natural inborn inclination to evil.
The yetzer hara comes to different people in different costumes. To a
person who's on a very very simple level, the yetzer hara might come in the
form of McDonald's. Here is a person who's not really committed to keeping 100%
kosher, and he is really hungry. Immediately, he spots a yetzer hara in the
form of a non-kosher restaurant. For another person that might not be a yetzer
hara attraction at all. That particular weakness he never had, or has already
overcome. His yetzer hara might be this tremendous urge to absolutely ignore
another Jew, or talk lashon hara about him, etc. To each and every Jew, the
Torah declares: Remember the exodus from Egypt, and draw a practical lesson from
it in your daily service of HaShem.
The plagues that HaShem brought upon Mitzrayim (Egypt) will give
us insight into what we should do to destroy or break our personal
spiritual Mitzrayims. Let us understand the plagues not as simply historical
events, but as a message to us as to how to overcome our own spiritual limitations.
We will examine the first two plagues -- blood, when all the waters of
Egypt turned into blood; and frogs, which suddenly began multiplying and spreading
throughout the land.
When HaShem turned the waters of the Nile into blood, it was real blood,
not petel. Water,
as everyone knows, is cold and wet. In general, coldness is opposed to holiness,
for holiness is associated with life, just as unholiness and impurity are associated
with death. The Torah tells us that "the blood is the vitality" of a living thing.
If there was an injury that caused a lot of bleeding and eventual death, one must
bury all of the items that have blood on them with the person in the kever,
because the blood is the nefesh. So blood is very much connected with life.
The difference between life and death is warmth vs. coldness. If a body is cold,
the person is no longer alive. Life is always associated with warmth. Let's give
an example. There are people who get very excited when there's a football game or
a rock concert. I understand that there's a lot of excitement and warmth and frenzy.
Now people who get very warm and excited about a rock concert or a football game,
or things of that nature, generally speaking, do not get as excited about learning
a sichah. Other people are pretty cold about football or rock concerts: "I
don't care if there's a rock concert; I don't care if it's next door; I'm not even
going to pay a penny; even if you give me a free ticket. I don't care about it;
I don't care about shaking hands with this movie star, it doesn't excite me one
bit." Now this is not a matter of internal chemistry. It's a matter of choice.
You can, and do, choose what you get excited about.
You might say, "What's so terrible if a person is cold towards holy matters?
The main thing is whether he does it or not, not what his feelings are!"
Some people feel that keeping Torah and mitzvos is a very big burden. It's
a "necessary evil," if you want to use that expression. "I went to a Jewish school
because that's where my parents sent me. Now I have to make Shabbos and I
have to do all these things, but I do it; I can't say I like it." Sounds familiar?
The Rebbe explains that this is the beginning of the downfall. When you have no
excitement in your Yiddishkeit, this could lead subtly and very gradually
to the other side completely! Why? Because blood, warmth, excitement --
is life. It is involvement!
Water is also necessary for life. In some respects, it has the opposite character
from blood. Water is cool and calm. It doesn't generally get excited. Our Sages
point out that water is an analogy for Torah -- just as water is necessary
for life, so too with Torah. However, water can also freeze, at which point its
movement stops, and it becomes "dead." The same is true of Torah -- it
is only alive if it's imbued with vitality, with joy, with enthusiasm and energy.
If it cools off, it can simply become a non-life-sustaining block of ice. So a Jew
has to know that joy, warmth and enthusiasm are not just luxuries, nice features
of life. A verse in Tehillim states, "Ivdu es HaShem besimchah" --
"serve G-d with joy." This is a fundamental principle of Yiddishkeit, which
is especially emphasized in Chassidus.
One of the lessons that the first plague -- the waters of the Nile
turning to blood -- teaches is the importance of warmth and enthusiasm,
symbolized by blood. A Jew is required to get rid of that coldness and replace it
with warmth. We should have a real simchah, joy and warmth, for Yiddishkeit.
What about the plague of frogs? Among animals, some are cold-blooded (i.e., creatures
whose blood temperature ranges from freezing upward in accordance with the temperature
of their surroundings), some warm-blooded (i.e., creatures whose blood remains fairly
constant, independent of the environment). Frogs belong to the former category.
In addition, they are water creatures. Not all cold-blooded creatures are also water
creatures, as for example, a scorpion.
Frogs infiltrated every part of Mitzrayim, but the Torah tells us explicitly
that one of the places they penetrated was the ovens of the Egyptians. The question
is asked -- if the Torah wants to emphasize that there were frogs everywhere,
why doesn't it tell us that the frogs went into the closets, underneath the beds,
on the table, etc? Or just tell us that they went everywhere. Why emphasize that
they entered the ovens? The Gemara explains that this was to show that the
frogs were even willing to martyr themselves -- have mesirus nefesh,
so to speak -- in fulfilling the command of HaShem that there would
be frogs throughout Egypt. The Rebbe explains that the fact that they entered
the ovens indicates to us the degree of mesirus nefesh the frogs had --
they went totally against their natures (as cold-blooded creatures) and entered
burning hot ovens. The frogs therefore symbolize cooling down the fires of passion
for negative, forbidden matters (the symbolism of the oven). The main point is,
that you can use your excitement for mitzvos, or G-d forbid, for aveiros,
things that HaShem does not want in the world. But you have to choose.
I remember an incident which will remain etched in my memory probably to the
end of my life. I come from a family of one boy and five daughters. My father was
always hoping that he would have a table-full of talmidei chachamim, but
they kept on having girls. Then, one day, my parents had a boy. My father invested
all his dreams and his hopes in this boy, that he should be a talmid chacham.
However, he was very troubled when he discovered that my brother, as a young boy,
was into baseball and other types of nonsense. He would always go to Yankee Stadium,
and had a whole box of comics and baseball cards under his bed. Now my father came
from Russia, and he couldn't relate to it at all. "My son should be learning!" But
my brother was more excited about comics than about learning Gemara. My father
would get reports about my brother from his teacher, and he was very very upset.
He kept telling him, "Your bar-mitzvah is coming up, and then, ge-endikt!
No more comics, no more baseball cards; turn over a new leaf, become serious." But
my brother didn't think that my father really meant it; he was hoping for a reprieve.
I still remember the day after his bar-mitzvah. My father made him take all
his comics and baseball cards, and they went to a garbage fill -- not
in front of the house, but across the street and down the block -- and
my father made him trash everything. My father said, "Ge-endikt! No more!
Now you're bar-mitzvah." It was probably the hardest thing my brother ever
did in his life. But, as many of you know, my brother turned out OK, baruch HaShem.
He is a very successful shaliach, and my father is proud of him. Until you
get rid of the shtuss (nonsense), you cannot put your energies into where
you should put them.
This then is the lesson we should learn from the plagues -- to break
any Mitzrayim you have on any level. In other words, you must try to analyze
in what your warmth and excitement lies. Is it lying in the right place, and if
not, work on getting it into the right place. Take the cooking, the excitement in
things that you are not supposed to be involved in, and replace it with warmth and
excitement in matters of holiness, and this warmth will eventually bring you to
the right place, so that you will achieve what you are fully capable of.