The Myopic View of a Plague

וַיֵּט אַהֲרֹן אֶת־יָדוֹ עַל מֵימֵי מִצְרָיִם וַתַּעַל הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ

Aaron held out his arm over the waters of Egypt, and the frog came up (Exodus 8:2).

Something strange happens when Aaron lifts up his rod to bring about the second plague upon Egypt.  Instead of a swarm of frogs covering the land, the literal meaning of the text is that “the frog” came up. You might assume that this is kind of like the grammar for the word “fish” in english. It can be either singular or plural. But that’s not the case, in Hebrew, an invasion of frogs would be צְפַרְדְּעִים tzvardeim, not צְּפַרְדֵּעַ tvareiah.

Whenever there is a textual oddity like this, the rabbis like to tell a story to reconcile the situation. According to the Midrash, the plague was actually one giant Godzilla-like frog that emerged from the Nile, and only when the Egyptians attacked it, did it split and multiply, replicating itself over and over again into a swarm of frogs. By attacking the frog, the Egyptians made the situation and the plague worse (Midrash Tanchuma, va’era 14).

What is this Midrash trying to teach? That when it comes to plagues, we sometimes develop a myopia, an inability to see beyond the harsh symptoms manifesting. The Egyptians are so preoccupied with the giant frog, that they fail to realize that the frog was not the problem. The root problem was Pharaoh, who refused to abide by the demands of God and Moses. If you find things that you don’t like, and you hit them with a stick over and over again until it goes away, you’ll never really fix the problem. When you attack the symptom of your problem, and fail to deal with the actual problem, you only make things worse.

This is the lesson of the Torah, and this is a lesson that so many have failed to learn during COVID. When we have the myopic view that our economy is failing as there are restrictions on businesses during the pandemic, and we treat this symptom by reducing restrictions on businesses, opening up hazardous environments because it generates revenue, we are going to see the virus that caused the economic downturn worsen! It’s just like hitting that giant frog over and over again. You started out with a single frog, and now you have a plague that has spread. This is the thinking of Egypt. This is the thinking of a Pharaoh.

Similarly, people who believe that the solution to their loneliness is to be around other people are fueling the problem that causes the symptom. What’s more lonely than not being able to see your friends and your family? Having your friends and family die; and what’s worse, living with the guilt of their deaths.

You can’t treat symptoms, you’ve got to treat the cause. We have got to be more concerned with COVID than we are about the economy and with loneliness. Don’t be like the Egyptians who beat the giant frog with the stick only to make the plague worse. Myopia, only being a being able to focus on a narrow plane, distorts the ability of people to see the real problem. Focus on fighting the pandemic by being civically responsible. Get vaccinated when you have the opportunity. Wear your mask when in public. Avoid unnecessary interactions. And focus on the community’s health, not on your secondary or tertiary symptoms.

haggadah Section: -- Ten Plagues