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The Longest Word in Chumash and the Plague of Frogs

By Rabbi Joseph Pearlman

In chapter 7 verse 28 Moshe is told to threaten Pharaoh that the Nile will swarm with Tsfardeim (frogs) which will come into your house and in your bedroom and on your bed and into the house of your servants and your people and uvetanurecha uvemisharotecha (your ovens and your kneading troughs). ובמשארותיך is the longest word in the whole of the Chumash being the only 10 letter word, and as nothing in the holy Torah can be coincidental we need to fathom its message in its context here.

To answer this, we need to ask a further question. Why were these two household utensils chosen to be specified in preference to all other vessels such as bowls, cups, pots and pans? What, if any, significance is there that here of all places we should find the longest word in the Chumash?

It is relevant to quote here the famous Gemara in Pesachim 53b “Todos, the Roman, expounded ‘what precedent did Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah follow when they allowed themselves to be thrown in the fiery furnace to sanctify Hashem’s name?’ They applied a Kol Vachomer from the frogs. The Tzefardeim were not commanded to perform the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, yet they entered the ovens and the kneading troughs. The fact that the kneading trough is juxtaposed to the oven in the Passuk indicates that we are talking of the time when one would normally find them next to each other, namely when the oven is still hot, so a fortiori Chananiah and his two friends who were obliged to perform the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem had to allow themselves to be thrown into the furnace rather than bow to the idol of Nevuchadnezzar.”

There is a very instructive Maharsha here in the Chidushei Agadot. He says that the Gemara’s deduction that the ovens were hot, from the juxtaposition of the two words is also derived from the fact that only these two household utensils were specified in the Passuk. This now answers our first question above. These two items were singled out for the reason that they, more than any other, emphasised the wondrously miraculous nature of the mesirut nefesh of the frogs. Tzefardim are by nature water amphibians and as such have to avoid hot places so as not to become dehydrated. Nonetheless they sanctified Hashem’s name by doing the very opposite of their natural tendency to keep away from heat, and they jumped into the ovens even while they were scorching with heat of the fire within.

Perhaps too this is the significance of the lengthiest word to show the extent of the mesirut nefesh and Kiddush Hashem of the frogs from whom people as great as Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah took their wonderful lesson by means of this inspired Kol Vachomer.

Another possible explanation of this use of the ten-letter word could be that the word “Tzefardeim” occurs ten times in this Parsha to indicate and emphasise a) that the plague of frogs was in itself as bad as the whole of the ten plagues b) that there were ten species of frogs and c) that they occupied ten places (mentioned in verses 28 & 29).

 

(1) Beveitecha – your house                                                       (6) Betanurecha – your ovens

(2) Bachadar Mishcavecha – your bedroom                           (7) BeMisharotecha – your kneading troughs

(3) Mittatcha – your bed                                              (8) Bechah – you

(4) Beveit Avadecha – your servants’ house                           (9) Be Amecha – your people

(5) be-Amecha – your people                                                     (10) Bechol Avodecha – your servants

 

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