In Parshat Vaeira, Hashem begins to bring ten plagues on Egypt in an effort to liberate the Jewish people. Regarding the second plague which involved frogs, it says (8:2) “And the frog came up (from the Nile) and covered the land of Egypt”. The question is: why does the Torah say “frog” in the singular and not “frogs” in the plural? In the Gemarra (Sanhedrin 67) R. Akivah says “One frog came up from the Nile and gave birth to many frogs who then covered the land of Egypt.” But R. Elazar Ben Azariah disagrees with R. Akivah and says “Why are you bothering with story-telling, R. Akivah? One frog did not give birth to millions. There were many frogs around and the one frog simply called out to them to join him and together they covered the land of Egypt.”
The real question here is–what’s the difference? Who cares if one frog gave birth to many frogs or if the frog merely called out to other frogs who already existed? Why would two great Torah scholars like R. Akivah and R. Elazar Ben Azariah spend their time disagreeing on something so minor?
When the plague of frogs is over, the Torah says (8:9) “And the frogs died from the houses, from the courtyards and from the fields”. It’s interesting that later on, when the fourth plague of wild animals is over, it says that the animals “were removed from Egypt” but it does not say that they died. Why did the frogs die and not the animals? According to the commentary “M’tzias Yitzchak”, the animals for the fourth plague were not created especially for the plague, rather they came from the forests and banded together to be involved in the plague. When the plague was over, they simply went back to the forests as usual. However, for the plague of the frogs, the quantity of frogs was especially created for the plague. When their mission was over, they no longer had a reason to exist and thus they died.
Regarding the difference of opinion between R. Akivah and R. Elazar about the frogs, R. Yekutiel Aryeh Kamlar says that they were actually using the frogs as an analogy for a different subject. In their time, there was a leader that came to power who was extremely anti-Semitic. As a result, anti-Semitism was soon rampant in the country where these two Rabbis lived. The people of their time pondered what had caused this and came to two conclusions. (This debate was similar to the one that went on when Hitler came to power.) There were some who said that the leader (and Hitler too) was a lone individual who was anti-Semitic and he was somehow able to turn the whole country against the Jews. Others said that really there were many people who were secretly anti-Semitic and the leader (or Hitler) was merely someone who made enough noise to allow everyone to display their own feelings of anti-Semitism. This is what R. Akivah and R. Elazar were debating. R, Akivah said “one frog” (i.e. one man) arose as an anti-Semite and “gave birth to many frogs” (i.e. turned others into anti-Semites) which resulted in their “covering the land of Egypt (anti-Semitism spreading all over). But R. Elazar said “It’s impossible that “one frog” (one leader) can “give birth” (convince) millions to be something that they are not. It must have been that there were many “frogs” (anti-Semites) already in existence and they were hiding their true feelings until that leader called out to them to join him in his fight.
But perhaps what was said by the M’tizas Yitzchak can help this debate. It doesn’t really matter whether anti-Semitism begins with one individual or with many. Anti-Semitism (like the frogs) is especially created for a purpose. That purpose is for Jews to get back on track with serving Hashem, loving their fellow Jew and returning to Eretz Yisrael where they can put both actions into practice. Once we do that, anti-Semitism (like the frogs) will die out completely.
Hashem should grant that this happens very soon.