Followers of the Passover story can rightly wonder why frogs were such a
Was God really showing His power to the Egyptians by
sending against them an army of amphibians? Would the nation that would
eventually produced Cleopatra, who purportedly killed herself by grabbing a
poisonous snake, really have cared? But the true plague of the frogs was how the
din of their incessant ribbiting robbed the Egyptians of all peace. We who
inhabit the modern world have a unique understanding of the utter agony
represented by a world that is never silent.
When the United States
invaded Panama in 1989 to oust Gen.
Manuel Noriega, he took refuge in the
Vatican Embassy. The United States Army brought huge loudspeakers and blasted
AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” in order to drive him out of his refuge, a tactic that
was also employed by the FBI at Waco.
Forty years ago, John Lennon made
the observation that when he grew up what was always heard in the background of
homes was the soothing crackling of a fire, only to be replaced by the incessant
noise of televisions that are always blaring in the background.
noise has come even closer today, with ear buds that pump music directly into
The net result is that we are rarely ever afforded any
Even today, harsh interrogation methods against terrorists involve
keeping them awake for days by constantly blasting music, which drives them to
the brink of insanity.
Many argue that this is a form of
The inability to ever shut out noise is a plague. But beyond the
pain caused by the utter lack of peace, there is the further consideration of
the drowning out of the inner voice of conscience.
Each of us is immersed
in a culture that throws various voices at us. Hollywood and the fashion
industry hit us with the aesthetic voice, telling us that what matters most is
beauty; best to spend our time in front of a mirror and at a gym. Wall Street
and Madison Avenue hit us with the monetary voice, which tells us that the most
important thing in life is money and being able to afford the material objects
that will bring us pleasure.
Washington and politics hit us with the
power voice, which tells us that the most significant thing in life is acquiring
dominion over others. And the NFL and NBA hit us with the physical voice, which
whispers that life has meaning through great athleticism; we should be spending
our time on the sports fields.
But beneath all these noises, which are so
central to the fabric of modern life and its aspirations, is the inner voice of
conscience, which whispers to us that we were born for lives of compassion and
goodness. It’s nice to be pretty. But it’s even nicer to be nice. It’s wondrous
to be sporty and adventurous.
But even more spectacular is to teach our
child how to throw and catch a ball. Through doing so, we grant our children a
feeling of significance. It’s a blessing to be wealthy. But even more important
is to live lives of charity and humility through which we make others feel that
they matter too.
There is no human being that is born without that voice
and, to the extent that it is lost, it is because it is drowned out by all the
other voices that surround us.
The Egyptians, like all human beings, had
an innate sense of morality and fair play. So how could they have enslaved a
helpless people? Because the soul’s voice of fraternity and brotherhood was
drown out by Pharaoh’s voice of dominion and power. As the Bible relates,
“Look,’ he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for
us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous
and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the
country.’” The Egyptians allowed the foreign voice of the will to power to
override the voice of sensitivity and compassion. In this sense, the racket of
the frog plague was an external manifestation of what had already
The Egyptians could no longer hear the inner song of their own
souls. They could only hear the clamor of the artificial, external voice that
slowly erodes our spiritual peace.
I once counseled a blended family that
was being ripped apart by a teenage girl who irrationally hated her stepfather.
While her mother, after having been alone for some years, had found
companionship and love with her new husband, she felt torn between her role as
mother and wife. I stayed with the family for a day and saw that while her
mother prepared dinner and set the table, the girl sat on a couch with her iPod
ear buds in her ears and painted her toenails. I asked to speak to
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked.
to be a fashion designer,” she answered.
“That’s not what I asked. I
asked you what you want to be, and you answered about what you want to
“What are the choices as to I want to be?” she
“There are only two,” I said. “You can either be a good person
or a selfish one.”
“I want to be a good person,” she said.
how is it,” I asked, “that I just watched you turn your mother into your maid?”
She thought about the question and said she didn’t know.
“I’ll tell you,”
I said. “Each of us is born with an inner voice that tells us to be a good son
To open our hearts to other people’s needs and wants. Your
mother wants to be a loving parent, but she is also a woman and does not wish to
be alone. You love you mom and your heart tells you to be there for her, to
offer her comfort for the pain she’s endured and generally make her life
But there is so much foreign noise in your life that you have no
peace with which to hear your true voice.
Turn off the music. Listen to
your mother when she asks you to help around the house, and listen to her silent
plea to support her in her new relationship.”
It’s amazing how, when all
the ribbiting is silenced, we begin to hear an old, familiar tune: the melodious
song of our own souls.Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” has just
published his newest best-seller, The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in
the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.