Tzfar-Daya (Smart Bird) Crocodiles – A Bird’s Best Friend

We’re accustomed to reading the “tzfardaya” featured in our parsha as frogs.

That reads well into the following verse: “‘tzfardaya’ will swarm in the Nile and they will come into your palace and your homes…”[1] Frogs do, indeed, swarm in the Nile. Those tzfardaya may, then, have been frogs.

There is, though, another, less well-known view on tzfardaya. And that’s the perspective that sees tzfardaya not as frogs. But, rather, as crocodiles

This view also reads well into the pesukim - because crocodiles also swarm in the Nile.

This view also finds support in the very word tzfardaya - in it’s unusual etymology.

That word seems to have five letters - tz,f,r,d,a – in its root.

And that’s odd because Hebrew words only have two or three-letter later roots - not five-letter roots.

Tzfardaya’s five-letter root suggests that it isn’t one organic word. But that it’s, rather, two words that compound themselves into one.

What would those two words be? One word would be the three-letter word, tzfar. And the other word would be the two-letter word, daya.

Tzfar and daya would, then, compound into tzfardaya – which means “birds of knowledge.”[2]

And the reason for this odd “birds of knowledge” moniker?

It’s probably because of the Egyptian plover – and that bird’s unusual relationship with the Nile crocodile.

That bird will - believe it or not - perch itself on the Nile crocodile’s head. And from the perch, that bird will - even more surprisingly – place its head inside the crocodile’s mouth. Once there, the bird will eat the parasites that are lodged between the crocodile’s many teeth.

And the reason why crocodiles allow plover birds to do this?

It’s because those birds help the crocodiles. How? By eating parasites that, if left uneaten, will cause crocodiles pain.

By helping crocodiles, though, those birds also help themselves. With what? By eating parasites that address their own nutritional needs.

Crocodiles, then, are constantly associating with birds.

And it’s because of that association that “tzfar” - bird – is appended to the crocodile’s name.

And why did “daya” – smart – become part of their name?

That’s probably because plover birds are smart birds. Think about it. Crocodiles are ferocious carnivores. They’re predators to humans and animals alike. But plover birds establish positive, working relationships with ferocious crocodiles. They do that by being helpful and trustworthy.

Which, of course, includes using “smarts.”

Which, of course, is why those birds were called tzar-daya, smart birds.

Those birds are, then, role models for us.

Not just in how to deal with the crocodiles that haunt far away Egypt.

But also in how to deal with the people who haunt our lives today.

Those people can be difficult coworkers. Or challenging family members. And the many other people who can act like crocodiles. By being ferocious. Or by lying in ambush.

We interface with these human crocodiles and we ask ourselves: Can we really establish relationships with them? And then we remind ourselves about the plover birds. And about how those birds establish relationships with real crocodiles.

And about how those relationships can be models for us.

That we can also be smart. And that we can, thereby, also establish relationships with our crocodiles.

We can complement our crocodiles. We can ignore some of their failings. We can show them that we care about them. We can show them we’re there to help - not to hurt - them.

By doing that, we may be showing them things they’ve never seen. Things like positivism. Kind words. Forgiveness. That people can help one another. And that people can love one another.

And that may teach them about mutually beneficial relationships.

No, we won’t establish such relationships with all crocodiles. Some crocodiles are too scarred or too damaged for positivism. Some crocodiles won’t ever learn to repay goodness with goodness.

Most people, though - even people with some crocodile-like tendencies – can be coaxed into warm, positive relationships.

And if can create such relationships, why wouldn’t we?

Isn’t it better to live with such relationships than with the fear of constant ambush?

[1] Shemos 7:28

[2] Midrash Lekach Tov

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