Open the door, my honey, my heart. — The Frog King
Over the past decade or so, I’ve noticed a fundamental shift in the thematic focus of the Passover Seder—the ritual meal that recalls the Jews’ journey from slavery to freedom. My childhood memories are of songs and symbols of liberation: a trail of matzah crumbs leading out of the wilderness, fresh green sprigs of parsley emerging from salty water like an enslaved people emerging from a sea of tears. The Seder also contains equally vivid recollections of the horrors of divine wrath (blood, boils, darkness, gefilte fish). But in the 21st century, one symbolic element has usurped the focus at countless American Seders I’ve attended: frogs.
Biblically speaking, frogs were the second of 10 divine plagues unleashed upon Egypt when the Pharaoh refused to free the Hebrews from slavery. Today, frog napkin rings, plush dolls, plastic figurines, table cloths, t-shirts, matzah covers, and candle sticks—all can be found in abundance at the Seder table. But rather than bemoan this amphibious invasion, I’ve begun to embrace it. Why? Because the more I looked, the more examples I found throughout history, science, and the arts of how the frog symbolizes the struggle for liberation—the very liberation Jews celebrate on Passover. But as the Israelites soon learned on their generation-long trek through the desert, the path to freedom is paved with many obstacles—not the least of which is, according to the Torah, the human heart’s resistance to change and its refusal to confront the status quo.