When one contemplates the many different creatures in Hashem’s world, the frog usually isn’t the first to come to mind.
It is tiny in comparison to the majestic lion, and minuscule contrasted to the massive height of the giraffe, and when it comes to appearance, frogs — which very often aren’t really green — don’t come close to the brilliant colors of the flamingo.
It certainly isn’t particularly admired for its voice; telling someone “you sing like a frog” isn’t generally considered a compliment.
But it really ought to be.
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 889) tells us that when Dovid Hamelech concluded the compilation of Tehillim, a frog appeared before him and told him, “I say more songs and praises than you do. Not only that, but three thousand parables are said about every song that I recite…Not only that, but I am involved in a great mitzvah, and this is the mitzvah that I involve myself with: There’s a creature on the shore whose sustenance comes exclusively from [creatures that live] in the water, and when it’s hungry, it takes me and eats me.”
In Perek Shirah, the songs of many creatures are quoted. The “song” of the frog is also there, and it is one that is very familiar to all of us.
It’s Baruch shem kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed — “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.”
How is it that this most elevated of tefillos — one that we say quietly all year and only intone out loud on Yom Kippur — is recited every day by the frog?!
A maamar Chazal in this week’s parashah helps us to understand.
When the Ribbono Shel Olam brought upon Egypt a plague of frogs, some of these creatures readily leaped into the hot ovens of the Egyptians. While all the frogs who had entered far safer areas, such as bedrooms and courtyards, died at the conclusion of the plague, the “self-sacrificing” ones miraculously stayed alive.
Centuries later, Nevuchadnetzer, the evil king of Bavel, erected a colossal golden image in the Plain of Dura and ordered all present to prostrate themselves before it or else be thrown into a fiery furnace.
Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah refused and were cast into a furnace, which in obedience to the king’s orders had been heated up for the occasion. The fire was so hot that the elite of Nevuchadnetzer’s guard — four subject kings and their courtiers — were consumed by the flames as they cast the three tzaddikim into it.
What made Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah do it?
The Gemara (Pesachim 53b) tells us that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah drew a kal vachomer from the frogs in Egypt. They reasoned that if a frog, who is not obligated to give up his life for kiddush Hashem, leaped into a burning oven, they who were obligated should certainly do so.
Then a series of miracles occurred. The furnace, a kiln dug into the ground, rose up to ground level, and the walls around the furnace were breached. To the amazement of all present, and to the wrath of the Babylonian king, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah could be seen walking around unharmed in the searing flames.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 93a) tells us that when the Ribbono Shel Olam saw that Klal Yisrael were bowing down to the golden image, He was prepared to turn the entire world into “night.” But when He then saw the mesirus nefesh of Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah, He was appeased and refrained from destroying the world.
Where did they get this strength from? They learned it from the frogs!
Of all the species in the world, these leaping creatures have the incredible strength of mesirus nefesh.
The Zohar Hakadosh has a somewhat different version of the encounter between Dovid Hamelech and the frog. It tells of the frog informing Dovid Hamalech, “I did more than you, for I was moser nefesh for the word of my master [by leaping into the ovens in Mitzrayim.] In addition, I sing to Hashem by day and by night without stop…”
It was then that Dovid Hamelech declared “Hashem, my heart was not proud, and my eyes were not haughty.”
Contemplating the song of the frog is certainly a humbling experience. There is much we can learn from this little creature.
For one thing, in regard to our obligation to praise Hashem it certainly expands our horizons. Indeed the sefer Perek B’Shirah states that the frog symbolizes our duties to sing a song of praise at all times — throughout our entire lives. It also gives us gives us a whole new perspective on the concept of mesiras nefesh. Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah took inspiration from the frogs, saving the world in the process, and so can we!
Mesirus nefesh doesn’t have to be leaping into fiery flames. Virtually daily we are faced with decisions that call for an element of mesirus nefesh. Perhaps the next time we experience a particularly challenging moment, we should stop to think of the magnificent song of the frog.