Mitzorah: We Love to Bug ~ Tzvi Abrahams

זָב: flow

זְבוּב: fly

דַּבְּרוּ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יִהְיֶה זָב מִבְּשָׂרוֹ זוֹבוֹ טָמֵא הוּא
Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and say to them: “[any] man who will have a flow from his flesh, its flow is impure.”1

זָב: Flow

Eretz Yisrael is referred to as אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָבוּדְבָשׁ/aland flowing with milk and honey, where זָבַתmeans flowing.

The flesh that the above verse speaks about from where the flow is emitted is from the man’s ervah/nakedness. The fact that the flow comes from this area is symbolic that this type of impurity comes from a sickness that is in the heart of man, namely having improper thoughts.2These improper thoughts are expressed as a zav/emission, an impure outflow from the body in this area.

In the Midrash Rabbah, it says that Hashem will inflict one who sins in his youth withzavusand tzara’as, not so much as a punishment, but as a means to hint to the person that he needs to change his ways and do teshuvah.3As we know, the body’s ailments are not just happenstance, but are signals for us to awaken from our spiritual slumber and change our ways.4

זְבוּב: Fly

In the same way as the זָב/zav, whose impure flow from within is a signal from Hashem for him to change his ways, so too the זְבוּב/fly is a signal from Hashem for us to change.

Why did Hashem create the fly? We know that there is nothing in Creation that does not have a purpose.

Before Adam sinned there was no need for flies. As a result of man’s sin, the earth was cursed and the fly was born — not only born but airborne — to do its job of bugging man! The fly is the king of all bugs because it bugs us the most.

The Midrash clearly states that flies are Hashem’s messengers.5

The fly is one of my favorite creatures with whom I have a love/hate relationship.

While on holiday in my youth, I was in a hot climate where there was an abundance of flies. I began to observe them and noticed a certain pattern in their behavior, to the point where I could control them! I observed that whenever I was having bad thoughts, the flies would come and bug me, and when my thoughts were clean, they would leave me alone and instead bug someone else.

It was clear to me that Hashem was sending these creatures to bug us purposely, not randomly, as a litmus test to see where we were holding with regard to our thoughts. It caused me to become more aware and ask myself what it was that I was thinking about that was bugging Hashem that He in turn was bugging me to change my thoughts from impure to pure.

In secular literature, I had read that there was a being referred to as the “Lord of the Flies,” a rebellious angel called Beelzebub who had fallen from Heaven, which in Hebrew means “lord of the flies,” and in the Torah is a form of idol worship.

As I became more religious, I discovered with great joy that the commentary of the Kli Yakar in Bereishisquotes Chazal as referring to the yetzer haraand the Satan as a fly!6Just like the yetzer haracrouches at the opening, so too the fly does.7The mouth of the fly is too weak to inflict a wound on its own; instead, it waits until there is an existing wound and then makes it bigger. Similarly, the yetzer haracannot inflict any harm on someone who is in a state ofshleimus/perfection; rather, he waits for him to make an opening, where he then enters and makes the opening bigger.

A sure way to know if we have or have not achieved the lofty goal ofshleimusis whether flies bother us or not. We see this with the prophet Elisha, whom the Shunamite woman recognized as a holy man since she never saw any flies around his table.8

Anyone who has spent hours lying on a beach will testify to the fact that flies are partial to one’s feet and ankles. Now that we see the connection between the fly and the Satan, we can piece the pictures of the puzzle together. The Satan, in the form of the snake, was punished in that he had to walk on his stomach and could only inflict pain on man’s heel, yetman has the power to step on him. Man’s weakest point is the heel (in Greek mythology, his “Achilles’ heel”), because that is the place where the snake can inflict its bite. Rashi, in the beginning of Parshas Eikev, relates that if we trample with our heels on the small mitzvos and treat them lightly, it will lead us to trample on the bigger mitzvos. Just like the poison of the snake travels from the heel upward to the head, so too the yetzer haracauses us to transgress the light mitzvos with our heels, and then one thing leads to another.9

Once there is a breach in the armor, the poison spreads. This is the power of the snake, and this is the power of the fly.

The Gemarawarns a person with tzara’asto be careful of flies because the flies love open wounds and can cause disease to spread.10

In this week’s parshah, the Kli Yakar compares the speakers of lashon harato flies. Just like flies are not found by people who are shalemand are only found by people who have blemishes, so too speakers oflashon haraleave people alone if they have a good name and only attack people with blemishes in an attempt to widen their blemish and spread the disease.

One of my chavrusas,Binyamin, once said: “If you keep your mouth shut, the flies can’t come in.”

Anotherchavrusa,Amos, once said that the flies are just like Arabs in that they have their hands in everything, just like flies that have no concern for borders. In the Midrash Tanchuma,thegoyimare also compared to flies.11One of the rabbis was admiring the stature and regal appearance of one of the Romans. Afterward, the rabbi and his friend were passing through the market, and when they saw a basket of dates and figs crawling with flies, the rabbi’s friend told him that the Romans and goyimwere no different than the flies in that Hashem uses them as hissheluchim, quoting the pasukthat Hashem sends the flies to do battle against us, referring to the armies of Sancherev.

Have you ever wondered where the flies go to in the winter?

Referring to my essay on the חוֹרֶף/winter,12the wintertime is the season where everything appears to be dead. In actuality, however, it is the beginning of life, the stage of youth in which one has not fully developed his individuality, as evidenced by the fact that he is not even accountable for sin by the Heavenly Court until reaching the age of twenty. Until one is twenty, one is very much under the domain of the yetzer hara, where everyone believes the whole world revolves around him. This is most prevalent in younger children — the younger the child, the purer the yetzer hara. It is only when one starts to develop as a man does the fly come to attack. This occurs in the spring and summertime of one’s life, when one’s fruits are developing and maturing. Here is when the flys strikes. Where there is an abundant of fruits, there is an abundant of fruit flies. The idea is that Hashem bugs us because He wants us to purify ourselves and become shalem/complete. When the flies finally leave us alone, as they did with the prophet Elisha, then it signals that we have reached shleimus.

One last point: Given an empty barrel of dung and an empty barrel of honey, which do you think the flies would be more attracted too? Most people would say the dung, but, in actuality, the flies are more attracted to the sweetness of the honey. This analogy is compared to the difference between the dead bodies of a goyand a Jew. The forces of tumahgather around the body of a Jew, for this is where the most taharahhas been, leaving behind the remnants of sweetness that the flies are attracted to, whereas with a goythere is little or no comparison.13

This is the love/hate relationship of a זְבוּב/fly. Like a זָב, itflows from a place of tumahto reveal to us our shortcomings. Hashem loves us, so He bugs us and wants us to change.

See Appendix iv, the Song of the Fly.

1Vayikra 15:2.

2Sefornoto Vayikraibid.

3Vayikra Rabbah 18:1.

4Brachos 5a.

5Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev3, on the verse in Yeshayahchap. 7.

6Kli Yakar to Bereishis 4:7.

7Brachos 61a: אמר רב, יצר הרע דומה לזבוב.

8Ibid., 10b.

9See essay to Parshasעקבon the root עקב.

10Kesubos 77b.

11Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev3.

12See Parshas Kedoshim.

13Ohr HaChaim to Bamidbar 19:2.




Mitzorah: The Place Where I Belong, My Ken ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

The Torah lists a number of actions which the leper must perform as part of his cleansing process:

 

Leviticus 14:9 – And it shall be, on the seventh day, that he shall shave off all his hair: [that of] his head, his beard, his eyebrows. The word ‘זָקָן’ (beard) is clearly derived from the word ‘זָקֵן’ (older person). Our sages (Kid. 32b) interpreted the word זקן homiletically as an abbreviation of זה קנה חכמה (one who has acquired wisdom). Since there is no letter ח’ in זקן, the abbreviation is simply of the words זה קנה –the object being acquired subject to change (as is indeed proven by a similar drasha: זקן – One who has acquired both worlds [Gen. Rabba 59:6] – no mention being made of wisdom).

 

Another word is also homiletically treated in the Talmud (Brach. 56b) as a reference to wisdom: One who dreams of a reed should anticipate [acquiring] wisdom. The common denominator between זקן and קנה rests only in the two lettersקן  –which the sages see as a hidden reference to קנין: acquisition.

 

These two letters first appear in Scripture in the naming of Cain, for which a reason is proffered by the Torah itself: She conceived and bore Cain, and she said, “I have acquired a man with the Lord” (Gen. 4:1). The Hebrew words קניתי איש את ה’ are interpreted in various ways by the commentators; Nahmanides explains that she meant that he would be “acquired as an ‘acquisition’” (קנין) to serve G-d once she and Adam passed on. Haketav Vehakabbalah however cites a Kabalistic interpretation apparently equating קנין (from the root קנה) with קנאה – jealousness/zealousness– (from the root קנא). He explains that קנה and קנא are linked because jealousy is essentially a belief that a given “acquisition” or attribute currently residing to another actually should belong to the jealous party. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (Ex. 20:5) also equates קנה to קנא, and explains Divine zealousness as a demand to rectify unjust ownership or actions.

 

In addition to the connection between קנה and קנא, Ricanati (Gen. 1:1) hints to a linkage between קנה and “קן צפור” –a bird’s nest. The background for his comments apparently rests in the words of the Zohar (2:8b) – Once the Messiah has been “rectified” (נתתקן)… he returns to a place called “the bird’s nest”, where he observes a vision of the destroyed Temple along with the many righteous people murdered there. He then takes ten garments known as “garments of zealousness.” Notice that he enters the ‘קן‘ already ‘מתוקן‘, and there acquires the garments of ‘קנאה’ garments. Perhaps the interpretation of Ricanati is that jealousness begins with the concept of קן – the proverbial “home.” In this case, the קן is embodied in the Temple, but on an elementary level, just as a mother bird protects her eggs and young with every tool at her disposal, so too must humans jealously guard what is theirs lest they be forfeited to another’s “nest”[1].

 

In truth, Ricanati’s comments echo the centuries-earlier words of Rashi. In Deut. 32:6 we find G-d referred to as “אביך קנך” – Your Father קנך. Rashi comments: [The word קָּנֶךָ means:] Who created/acquired (קָנָה) you; [alternatively it means:] Who nested you (קִנְנֶךָ) in a nest (קַן) of rocks and in a strong land; [alternatively it means:] Who has rectified you (תִּקְּנֶךָ) with every type of reparation (תַּקָּנָה). Notice that Rashi in one sentence interpreted the word קנך variously as: 1) Creation/acquisition 2) Nesting 3) Rectification. This, in contrast to almost all the other commentators on the verse (e.g. Ramban who renders the word simply as “creation”). Indeed, Rashi himself on the words describing G-d as “קֹנֵה heavens and earth” (Gen. 14:19) explains the word as “Maker,” without further embellishment[2].

 

We cited above in passing the drasha found in Brach. 56b: One who dreams of a reed should anticipate [acquiring] wisdom. Now, while the interpretation of זקן –an older person– as tied to acquisition of wisdom– bears a logical connection in that presumably some wisdom comes with age; what possible connection is there between wisdom and bamboo sticks? A hint may be found in one general property of reeds, namely: hollowness (the basis for e.g. the branches of the Menorah being referred to as קנים [see Ibn Ezra Ex. 25:32]). The structure of the reed is thus similar to a pipe, generally used for transmitting water from place to place. On the abstract level, water is the symbol of Torah wisdom (BK 17a). Thus, the logic of the proof-text brought by Rabbi Yossi Hagelili (ibid.) becomes apparent: The Lord קנני me at the beginning of His way (Prov. 8:22). The choice of the word קנני as a synonym for creation –as opposed to ברא or עשה– may be interpreted by way of its connection to קָנֶה (all the words cited in this article [save זקן] derive from the bi-literal root קן according to Machberet Menachem) in the sense of reeds. G-d did not merely create the world and leave it to slowly deteriorate – the default condition of all physical matter. Rather, He created a world ironically built of proverbial straw, the hollow quality of which allows for constant renewal through a connection to the Lord’s rejuvenating life-giving “fluids” [this interpretation is strengthened in the verses following this one:  I was חוללתי when there were yet no deeps (ibid. 24). The word חוללתי is another synonym for creation, but one which implicitly connotes again: hollowness]. In other words, G-d was מקונן the world with hollow קנים of which each individual קן is constructed, in order that a system of renewal and תקון will always be accessible to those who choose to partake of the life-giving waters they bear.

 

May we acquire eternal renewal through the קנים our קונה has been מקונן for us. And may the Messiah soon leave his קן and redeem us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]  See also Haketav Vehakabbalah Gen. 14:19.

[2] The reason for the difference in Rashi’s interpretations could be that he was speaking from the perspective of the pronouncer of those words -the righteous gentile Malkizedek. In Deuteronomy however, the Speaker is none other than G-d Himself, Who intended to convey in the one word קנך every nuance and hidden meaning that Rashi lists.