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Shabbat Parashat Va'eira 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Frogs and Embarrassment

Harav Yosef Carmel

The phenomenon of “shaming” on social media has proven to be very dangerous. The dangers are many times worse when it involves children and adolescents. We will take a look at the matter through the lens of the parasha and even suggest a partial solution.

One of the great miracles that led up to the freeing of our forefathers from Egypt was that of the frogs. “The Nile will be full of frogs, and they we will come out and enter your houses, your bedrooms, and your beds, and in the houses of your servants and in your nation, and in your ovens and your food” (Shemot 7:28). Chazal pick up on the proximity of mention of the oven and the food and point out that the food is near the oven when the two are hot, which shows us that the frogs entered the oven when they were being used for cooking, showing that the frogs risked their lives in order to sanctify Hashem’s Name. They derived that specifically the frogs that entered the hot ovens survived and were able to return to the Nile, while the rest of the frogs died and smelled up the Land of Egypt (Midrash Shochar Tov 28).

Chazal (ibid.) also tell us that Chananya, Mishael, and Azaria, who were thrown into a furnace rather than bow down to an idol, learned from the frogs. They reasoned that if the frogs, which did not have the merit of their forefathers, were able to miraculously survive when they risked their lives for Hashem, the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, who are commanded to sanctify His Name, certainly are required to risk their lives to sanctify His Name.

We find the concept of being willing to go into a furnace coming up in another context. Tamar was about to be burnt to death for a form of adultery. She knew she could blame her father-in-law Yehuda, but decided that she was willing to die rather than embarrass him, if he were not ready to admit his involvement (see Bereishit 38:25). The gemara (Sota 10b) learns from this episode that a person should prefer throwing himself into a fiery furnace to publicly embarrassing his counterpart.

The conclusion is clear! There is nothing greater than a life of sanctifying Hashem’s Name. And there is nothing more despicable than to shame a counterpart in public!!

It is the job of parents, teachers, youth group leaders, and certainly rabbis to make every effort to prevent occurrences of shaming, of any sort, certainly when people use the new technology of social media. We have quickly learned that this powerful tool, which can certainly be used for good things, like gaining public support for good causes and other wonderful purposes, can also be used to cause horrible human destruction.

When educators allow the use of technology for social and educational connections, they must ensure that there is, in every circle of young people using it, an open adult monitor of the activity. He should get involved only when shaming or some other damaging activity is going on. These are matters of life and death.

Let us learn from the frogs and Tamar how to go about our lives properly. Do not embarrass; do not harm. Let us, rather, sanctify Hashem’s Name in the way we lead our lives.
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