July 10, 2024
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Rising Up by Lowering Down

Right before the portion of Tazria, the previous parsha concluded by teaching laws regarding animals, birds and various other creatures. Immediately after, Tazria begins, where the laws regarding humans are discussed. We can ask, if humans are the pinnacle of creation, shouldn’t their laws be discussed before that of animals? The first Rashi in Tazria addresses this question: “Rabbi Simlai explained, just like in the beginning of creation, man was created after the creation of animals and birds, so too are the laws of man discussed after the laws of animals and birds.”

Rabbi Simlai leaves us with perhaps an even greater question: Why were humans created only after animals? Due to their prominence, shouldn’t they have been created before animals? The Gemara Sanhedrin (38a) asks a similar question: “Why was Adam created on the Erev Shabbat?” The Gemara gives a few explanations. One explanation is that Erev Shabbat was the last day of creation, and thus Adam was created last in order so that if a human being attempts to have ga’avah (haughtiness), we respond back to him “a simple fly has preceded you.” Meaning, in order to deflect a person’s self-inflation, we calm him down by reminding him that he’s not as great as he thinks, that even something so small and relatively insignificant as a miniscule fly was given greater prominence by being created before him. This explains why humans were created last on Erev Shabbat, and also why they were created after animals.

The Gemara gives another explanation. The Gemara explains that Adam was created last, after all the other creations, in order that he enter into a feast immediately [since by everything being created already before, everything was essentially ready for him to partake in]. Chatam Sofer asks on this explanation: We know that it was initially forbidden for Adam to eat animals, and if that’s so, it makes sense that Adam should have been created after other edible entities (such as fruit and vegetation) so that those entities are immediately available for him to partake in, but if he was forbidden to partake of animals, then there was no point for animals and other creatures to be created before him, and Adam should therefore have been created before animals!

There’s another pasuk in Tazria that says: וּבָשָׂ֕ר כִּי־יִֽהְיֶ֥ה בֽוֹ־בְעֹר֖וֹ שְׁחִ֑ין וְנִרְפָּֽא—“If flesh will have an inflamation on its skin, and it will have healed.” The Gemara Sotah (with Rashi’s understanding) points out that in two other places in our parsha it brings up other skin afflictions but are worded differently: אָדָ֗ם כִּי־יִֽהְיֶ֤ה בְעֽוֹר־בְּשָׂרוֹ֙ שְׂאֵ֤ת אֽוֹ־סַפַּ֨חַת֙, and נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת כִּ֥י תִֽהְיֶ֖ה בְּאָדָ֑ם. The contrast between these last two pesukim and the first one is that in the last two pesukim, “adam”—a human—is the subject matter who received a skin affliction, yet the pasuk does not mention anything about getting healed, whereas in the first pasuk, “basar”—flesh—is the subject matter that received a skin affliction, but about whom the pasuk says “it will have healed.” Why the difference? The Gemara (with Rashi) explains that this is to teach us that someone who is soft and humble like “flesh” is already close to being healed, whereas an “adam” who is hard [i.e., arrogant] like “adama” (earth) will not be healed.

Says the Chatam Sofer, the two aforementioned explanations of the Gemara apply to two different types of people. If a person has ga’avah and makes himself like an “adam,” this self-perception of attempting to rise above is exactly what lowers him down because we respond to such a person, “A simple fly has preceded you.” To this person we apply the first explanation of the Gemara for why humans were created on Erev Shabbat after creatures and animals. However, if a person lowers himself by making himself like “flesh,” like “basar,” like an animal so-to-speak [meaning he doesn’t self-inflate much like an animal doesn’t self-inflate], so that actually raises him up since we apply the other explanation of the Gemara where we say that for such a person the edible entities [to the exclusion of animals] were created before him in order that he enter into a feast immediately. The fact that this “feast” was prepared for him indicates his exalted status.

One can easily think that being an anav (humble) is a self-deflating experience where one has no identity and is likened to a doormat personality. Chatam Sofer is teaching us that it’s exactly the opposite: One who lowers himself [meaning he lowers the part of his nature that desires to self-inflate], and is an anav, is really raised up and achieves an exalted identity.

I thought of three practical applications to this idea of Chatam Sofer:

1) One who lowers himself, he himself raises himself up, for by recognizing that he cannot control events in his life but rather that Hashem does he can achieve freedom from many aggravations that arise in one who lives the “my-way-highway” mentality. Therefore, an anav lives a life of a person who has risen above typical emotional grievances and disturbances that occur in daily life because he understands that things are supposed to go Hashem’s way, not his. Hence, an anav can rise above feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety. Moreover, since he understands that Hashem is in control of the way things should be, he can rise above feelings of jealousy and envy and can enjoy peace of mind since he is happy with the lot Hashem destined for him. Additionally, since an anav realizes he doesn’t know everything, he therefore can judge others favorably and can therefore get along with people. Thus, he can rise above pettiness, arguments, rift and dislike that can occur in dealings with people.

2) When one lowers himself and is an anav, Hashem raises him up. Indeed, Orchot Tzadikim goes through many benefits and dividends the anav becomes entitled to due to his middah of anava: a) A “small” deed of an anav is accepted by Hashem a thousand times more than a “great” deed of one who has ga’avah. b) Hashem has a special desire for the deeds of an anav, and Hashem accepts them with pleasure and joy. c) Hashem bestows the attribute of “chen” (favor or charisma) upon the anav. d) Hashem has a special mercy that he bestows upon the anav. e) An anav’s tefilla is accepted by Hashem and he is answered immediately. f) One who lowers himself, Hashem considers it as if he brought all of the korbanot. g) An anav merits wisdom.

3) When one is an anav, people raise him up. Indeed, since an anav finds favor in people’s eyes and is well-liked by people, that may explain why Orchot Tzadikim writes that people want to honor the anav, and that people want to help and assist him. Moreover, Orchot Tzadikim implies that although the anav is the type who runs away from honor, nevertheless, since he gives honor to people, ironically people honor him so much so that eventually they would raise him up to positions of prominence and authority.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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