Mosquito or Man - Who was Created First?
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
Last week's parsha, Parshat Shemini, deals with the tumah (defilement) of
animals, concluding with, "This is the law of the animal, the bird, etc."
(Vayikra 11:46) The laws of the defilement of humans, however, are postponed
until our parsha, Parshat Tazria. Chazal comment on this (Vayikra Rabbah
"Achor (later) and kedem (earlier) You have formed me."
(Tehillim 139:5) If a person is worthy, he is told, "You preceded all of
Creation." If not, he is told, "A mosquito preceded you; a worm preceded
When a person is worthy and he is told, "You came first!," does this change
the objective fact that man was, in fact, the final act of creation, and
that a mosquito preceded him?!
We can explain this based on a passage in Masechet Yevamot (66b):
The story is told of R. Yochanan b. Zakai who was walking outside of
Yerushalayim, and saw the daughter of Nakdimon b. Gurion (who was extremely
wealthy) collecting barley from among the animal wastes of the Arabs. He
said: "Ashreichem Yisrael! (How fortunate are you, Israel!) When you
do G-d's will, no nation or tongue can rule over you. When you do not do
G-d's will, He delivers you into the hands of a lowly nation. Not only into
the hands of a lowly nation, but into the hands of the animals of a lowly
The Maharal asks on this: We can understand, "Ashreichem Yisrael!" when they
do G-d's will. But when they do not do G-d's will, the results are
disgraceful to them, whereas R. Yochanan b. Zakai's comment, "Ashreichem
Yisrael," seems to apply also to their state when they do not do G-d's will!
The Maharal explains that from Israel's great downfall one can learn of
their great inherent worth. The greater something is, the deeper it might
crash. When a plant is detached from the source of its growth, it becomes
worse than something inanimate, and it withers. An animal is even worse than
a plant, and it becomes a carcass that rots and stinks. The same is true for
levels of tumah. A plant, which has no inherent tumah, is unlike an animal,
which defiles upon death. An animal, which has a low level of defilement, is
unlike the tumah of a person, which is severe and requires seven days of
purification. The tumah of a non-Jew is unlike that of a Jew, who defiles
also under a tent.
So, too, regarding the defilement of the soul. The greater something is, the
greater its spiritual defilement is. Therefore, a Jew rises up to the sky,
but when he spoils his path and falls, he is worse than a person from the
other nations. Therefore, R. Yochanan b. Zakai happily exclaimed,
"Ashreichem Yisrael!," because the sight of their great decline demonstrates
the great level that Israel can reach.
A person's body was, indeed, created last of all the creatures, but
his soul precedes all of creation. At the beginning of Creation, we
read, "The Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters."
(Bereishit 1:2) Man's soul is a part of this Divine Presence, as it says,
"[G-d] blew into his [Adam's] nostrils the soul of life " (Bereishit 2:7)
Thus, the issue now depends on man's choice. If man succeeds, he establishes
his soul sovereign over his body, and from the perspective of his soul, he
precedes all of Creation. If he fails, however, his body rules his soul, and
then he is worse than all of the other creatures, and he is the last of all
Therefore, the sacrifices of man, which come to purify his soul, are written
first in Sefer Vayikra, while the laws of his defilement, which are for his
body, come at the end, after the laws of the animals and birds.
Telling a person, "A mosquito preceded you," is not simply giving him
information, but rather notifying the person that he has failed and lowered
himself below the level of an animal. On the other hand, when a person
succeeds in his mission, he places himself on the highest level, first among
all of Creation. "A path of life [lies] above for the intelligent one, so
that his soul will turn away from the grave below." (Mishlei 15:24) The Gra
explains that there is no neutral state; man must always be rising above,
but if he stands in his place, he turns down.
This is the idea of Sefirat Ha'omer, to climb daily, step by step, towards Kabbalat HaTorah. This is reflected by the ascent from the korban ha'omer, which is brought on Pesach from barley (animal food), to the korban of the two loaves, which is brought on Shavuot from wheat (human food).
Shiur ID: 3736