The first Rashi in Parashas Tazria quotes a Midrash stating that just as the account of the fashioning of man came after the Torah’s account of Creation, so it is that the laws about man came after the laws regarding cattle, beast and fowl.
Why was man created after all other creatures?
Chazal (Sanhedrin 38a) give numerous reasons. One is so that if man becomes arrogant, he can be told, “The mosquito was created before you.” Another reason is so that Adam would be able to immediately “enter into a meal”; all his food sources were already in existence and ready for him.
The Modzhitzer Rebbe teaches in his sefer Divrei Yisrael that these two explanations are interrelated.
As we state in Birkas HaMazon, Hashem “prepares food for all His creatures that He has created.” Our sustenance awaits each of us; it is only a matter of knowing where to find it.
When someone acts in a conceited manner and relies on his own abilities, talents, and strengths — “kochi v’otzem yadi” — he is left to fend for himself in his search for sustenance. Like a man blinded by total darkness, such a person wanders about looking here and there, unable to find what he so desperately seeks. But when one acts with humility and recognizes that parnassah comes solely from Hashem, he merits to be led immediately to his sustenance.
Therefore, the knowledge that a mosquito was created before man helps ensure that we avoid arrogance and merit to “enter immediately into our meal.”
* * *
This week we are given a glimpse into the incredible humility of Rashi. In discussing the nega of baheres, the Torah states, “And its appearance is not deeper than the skin,” the hair doesn’t turn white, and the Kohen is to confine the individual for seven days.
“I do not know its meaning,” Rashi states.
Rashi could, of course, have chosen not to write anything. But as he does numerous times throughout Tanach, Rashi informs us that he doesn’t know.
The Divrei Yisrael homiletically explains Rashi’s statement “I do not know its meaning” as an explanation of the words “and its appearance is not deeper than the skin.”
The Torah is referring to true humility, when a person admits that he “doesn’t know” and that all knowledge comes from Hashem. The “white,” symbolizing his avodas Hashem, “isn’t deeper than the surrounding skin” — that is, he doesn’t try to exhibit external greatness in an attempt to impress others. Rather, he tries to hide his good acts.
Continuing with the themes of sustenance and emunah, the haftarah for Parashas Metzora begins in the middle of an episode that took place during the reign of Yehoram Hamelech.
Malchus Yisrael found itself in a dreadful situation. For seven years a famine had devastated Shomron, and in order to survive (pikuach nefesh), its inhabitants were forced to eat unclean foods. The head of a donkey sold for 80 silver pieces, a small amount of dove’s dung for five. On top of that, Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram, had mustered his forces and was besieging Shomron.
When the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the people were resorting to cannibalism, Elisha revealed in the Name of Hashem that the famine would come to an end the next day. “At this time tomorrow, a se’ah of fine flour will sell for a shekel and two se’ah of barley for a shekel in the gate of Shomron.”
The king’s officer, who heard this nevuah of Elisha, scoffed at it. “Behold, if Hashem makes windows in the sky, will this thing come about? Will wheat and barley fall from the sky like the mann?” the officer asked sarcastically.
“You shall see it with your own eyes, but you will not benefit from it,” Elisha replied.
That night, four men (Geichazi and his three sons) who were stricken with tzaraas and were therefore condemned to remain outside the camp of Yisrael were so starved that they decided to give themselves up to the Arameans — but they found the enemy camp empty!
It turned out that Hashem had caused the Arameans to hear the trumpeting of a great army with myriad horses and chariots. Reaching the erroneous conclusion that Hittites and Egyptians had come to the aid of Yisrael, the Arameans had fled, leaving all their possessions behind.
The four men reported the great news to their brethren, who, having first feared a trap, soon realized what a great miracle had taken place.
The next day, every word Elisha had uttered came true. The discovery of large amounts of food in the abandoned Aramean camp caused the price of flour and barley to fall to the exact prices he had predicted. And the king’s officer who had doubted the word of Elisha, appointed by the king to stand guard at the gate, saw the bountiful food but was trampled to death by the crowds before he could eat any of it.
Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, asks: Did the king’s officer deserve the death penalty for doubting the word of Elisha? He did not disobey the navi; he only doubted him.
He answers that this was not a punishment, but a natural consequence. Since it is in the merit of emunah that a person receives sustenance, because the officer expressed doubt about this nevuah, he could not possibly merit to enjoy the yeshuah it foretold.