Did "You precede the ministering angels", Or "The mosquito preceded you"

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in the everyday life - Bereshit – 5781

At a good time, בְּשָׁעָה טוֹבָה we start again from 'Bereshit', we start reading the Torah anew, delving into, and finding inspiration in it for our conduct.

At the center of the Parasha, the 'creation of man' - on Friday, a creation that has a polar complexity of opposites. עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה 'the dust of the earth' and נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים 'the breath of life' from G-d. On the one hand,  נזר הבריאה'the 'crown of creation' - creation with free choice, and the ability to have a tremendous influence on the visible and hidden world, to which the responsibility for guarding the paradise was given ''לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ "to till it and tend it". And on the other hand, he is determined, he has difficulty in accepting authority, he is inclined to control, to his weaknesses, instinctual lust, and temptations. Already on the day of his creation he sinned in the 'Tree of Knowledge 'עץ הדעת, did not accept responsibility for his failure, and blame it on his wife. He missed the opportunity and was expelled from his paradise.

What is the connection between the opposite human complexities and its place in the order of creation?

ת"ר אדם נברא בערב שבת ומפני מה ...שאם תזוח דעתו עליו אומר לו יתוש קדמך במעשה בראשית

The Sages taught in a baraita (Tosefta 8:7): Adam the first man was created on Shabbat eve at the close of the six days of Creation. And for what reason was this so? … so that if a person becomes haughty, G-d can say to him: The mosquito preceded you in the acts of Creation, as you were created last. (Sanhedrin 38a).

אִם זָכָה אָדָם אוֹמְרִים לוֹ אַתָּה קָדַמְתָּ לְמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, וְאִם לָאו אוֹמְרִים לוֹ זְבוּב קְדָמְךָ, יַתּוּשׁ קְדָמְךָ, שִׁלְשׁוּל זֶה קְדָמְךָ.

If a man merits, they say to him, 'You preceded the ministering angels' and if not, say to him, 'A fly was created before you', 'a mosquito', 'an earthworm preceded you'. (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1)

This complexity expresses the shortcomings and weaknesses of man, but it also teaches him how to prepare his strengths according to the challenges he will be facing:

כל הנאמר לגדלותו של האדם, וכל מה שנאמר לקטנותו, הרי הוא אמת. זכה קדם למעשה בראשית. לא זכה יתוש קדמו. על כן צריך הוא להשתמש תמיד באלה ההשקפות השונות לטובתו

Everything that is said about man's greatness, and everything that is said about his smallness, is true. He preceded in the creation of the world. He did not merit, the mosquito preceded him. Therefore, he should always use those different views in his favor. (Shmonah Kvatzim 2:281)

In obtaining spiritual strength to do positive things:

לענין הערת רוחו לאידיאלים גבוהים ונישאים, ישאב מכחה של השקפת עולמים על דבר גדלו. איך הוא מרכז כל יצורי קדם וכל מעשה בראשית בו כלולים. ובעילויו הכל מתעלה, ובשפלותו הכל נשפל

"For the sake of his spiritual awakening to high ideals, he will draw power from a worldview on the matter of their greatness. How he coordinates all beings of creation and creation itself. And in his ascension, everything ascends, and in his humiliation, everything is degraded" (ibid).

And therefore, when required to deal with his weaknesses and things he considers difficult to achieve:

ולגבי חריצות מעשה, ופעלים תרבותיים כלליים או פרטיים מחיי החול לך אל נמלה עצל, ראה דרכיה וחכם. ישתמש בהשקפת יתוש קדמך

"And as for diligence of deed, and general or private cultural actions from the life around you: 'Go like an ant, see its ways and be wise' – the animals around never stop, don't give up, and so remember the fact that the mosquito preceded you" (ibid).

Unlike last year, this year we start from "Bereshit' (the beginning) when the corona pandemic is in full swing and we want to learn from the Parasha about our situation: the areas in which there is an expression of human greatness and on the other hand his weaknesses.

On the eve of the appearing of the corona in our lives, humanity was at the height of its strength and had the possibility to control over the world. It had a significant amount of arrogance. It saw itself to a fine degree as the 'lord of the world', who in its power and abilities could run the world as it wished, ignoring  'the One Who spoke and the world came into being said and was the world'  שֶׁאָמַר וְהָיָה הָעוֹלָם.

And here it is, a small virus that forces the entire humanity to take things into proportion in relation to its power and abilities. It is a challenge just as 'the mosquito preceded you', bend down and accept its dictates.

In the face of the challenge posed by the small virus, there is the complexity of man. On the one hand, there is an option in which the human being is told: 'the mosquito preceded you', Surrender to human weaknesses, allow them to take over, be tempted to crowd in and remove your mask ‘because it’s hard’. Violate the guidelines, because 'who are they'- the authorities, that I should accept their authority and instructions!? Justify the irresponsible conduct of conspiratorial theories and denial ('it is no more than a flu', 'it is only meant to serve the politicians', etc.), or on a more advanced level: evade responsibility and impose it on others ('those' who are easy to hate, guilty of spreading the pandemic). Make the crisis a political ax to advance political agendas. Turn the crisis into a tool in the hands of the media to stimulate dramatization and garner more ratings. And to degrade the social discourse, to stir up quarrels and debates and to spread hatred against ideological rivals.

Although, on the other hand, there is an opposite option: to allow the ability and powers of the human being to transcend, in the sense of 'You precede the ministering angels'. To place the sanctity of life of 'וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם 'which man shall live' above all, as פִיקּוּחַ נֶפֶשֶׁ דּוֹחֶה אֶת כל המצוות כולן 'saving a life overrides all the commandments'.

Accept the necessary restrictions both to protect oneself and one's family, and others, out of 'mutual responsibility', as in times of war. To adapt oneself to the new situation and get out of the fixation, to be able to accommodate the required changes in our lifestyle.

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