This week’s parsha, Tazria-Metzora, begins with a discussion of the laws of childbirth and a bris, key milestones of life, and the laws regarding purity and impurity, what we call tum’ah and taharah, of people. Rashi raises a question about the order of the Chumash: in last week’s portion, Shemini, the Torah details the laws of purity and impurity with regard to animals. This week’s portion, as well as next week’s, deals with the laws of purity and impurity with regard to people. It would seem that the appropriate order should have been to deal with the laws of human beings first and then the laws of animals, as human beings are more important; why, then, does the Torah deal with the laws of animals before the laws of human beings?
To answer the question Rashi quotes from the Midrash, which says that G-d modelled this structure on the order in which He created the world. In the same way that when He created the world He created animals before human beings, so too in the Torah, He dealt with the laws of the animals before the laws of human beings.
The question, then, is compounded; why did G-d create animals before human beings in the first place?
The Talmud in Sanhedrin 38a gives four reasons why G-d created animals before human beings. First, so that the heretics would not say that there was a partner in Creation with G-d. Had G-d created Adam and Eve at the beginning of the six days of Creation, the heretics and the deniers of G-d’s existence would say that G-d did not create the world – Adam and Eve actually did it, or at least helped Him out. Therefore, Adam and Eve had to be created at the end, to take away the argument from the heretics and the deniers.
We see from this how important it is to refute heresy and those who deny the truth. We see as well that people will deny even G-d’s creation of the world. People will deny many things – for example, the Holocaust, G-d’s existence, or the Jews’ right to the Land of Israel. Basic facts of history and rational enquiry are denied by people, and we must go to the trouble to refute the heresy and stand up for what we believe, just as G-d did by structuring the order of Creation in such a way.
The soul is the key factor differentiating between us and animals
The second reason that human beings were created last is because G-d wanted to teach people humility; even the mosquito was created before humankind. Lest we think we are so great, even a mosquito was created before us.
One of our commentators, the Ktav Sofer, explains further that when people sin and are detached from G-d, they are saying their body is what defines them. Human beings are comprised of two parts, body and soul. We can view ourselves as a body which just happens to have a soul but our main identity is the body, or we can view the soul as our main identity and the body as merely the house for the soul. If our whole self-definition is based solely on “body,” then we are saying that we are no superior to the animal kingdom. Therefore G-d reminds us that even the mosquito was created before humankind. But if the soul is the main focus, then man is truly superior; the soul, being a Divine spark of G-d Himself, preceded all of Creation. The soul and the intellect are the key differentiating factor between human beings and animals.
On a physical level we are no match for the animals: even a simple mosquito can beat us. If any of you have been to Kruger National Park – and I certainly hope that you have, because it is a wonderful way to see the magnificence of G-d’s Creation – you know that one of the things you have to worry about is mosquitoes. Look how much trouble we go through to fight off the mosquitoes: we have developed drugs and all kinds of creams and insecticides to fight them off. Physically, we are weaker. It is only with the spiritual and intellectual dimension of the neshama, the soul, that we are elevated above the animal kingdom. We were created last to remind us that if we are going to behave like animals, then even the mosquito is better than us; it preceded us.
The world was created for human beings to do good
The third reason the Gemara gives for human beings created last is so that they would be created on Friday and go straight into Shabbos, straight into doing a mitzvah. The fourth reason human beings were created at the end is because G-d wanted the world to be ready for them, like a bride and groom who enter the wedding hall last; everything is ready and everyone is waiting just for them because they are the most important part of the celebration.
The third and fourth reasons are actually connected. Human beings were created last so that they would enter a world ready and waiting for them, indicating that all of Creation was created just for them. This relates to – and is dependent on – the third reason, namely, that human beings came last in order to go straight into a mitzvah; the purpose of creating human beings was for us to serve G-d. G-d created everything for human beings, in order that human beings would serve Him. That is the ultimate purpose of the world.
The Torah’s order parallels Creation’s order
The Midrash comments that the reason the Torah deals with the laws of tum’ah and taharah in relation to human beings after the laws of tum’ah and taharah in relation to animals is because G-d created the world in that order.
But we have to ask ourselves the following question: it is true that G-d created the world in this particular order for the four aforementioned reasons, but why is it necessary to apply this order to the laws of the Torah? What does one thing have to do with the other? Just because G-d created the world in that order, does that mean that the laws of the Torah have to be structured in the same way?
Torah is the blueprint for the world
The Torah and the world are intertwined. They are both creations of G-d and in a sense they are actually the same creation. Rav Yerucham Levovitz, one of the heads of the Mir Yeshiva prior to World War II, explains that the Torah’s order parallels the order of creation because Torah is the blueprint of the world – as our Sages tell us, G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. This is what the Mishnah refers to when it says “turn it [the Torah] over and over, for everything is in it.” Everything that we see in this world has its roots in Torah because the Torah was the overarching design for the world. Thus, the order of the Torah and the world are parallel, because the world was created from the Torah.
The 613 commandments of the Torah are comprised of 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments. A positive commandment commands an action, such as putting on tefillin, while a negative commandment is a prohibition, such as not to eat non-kosher. There are 248 positive commandments, paralleling the 248 limbs of the body, and 365 negative commandments, paralleling the 365 sinews and muscles of the body. How exactly we categorise what is considered a limb and what is considered a sinew is not for the present discussion, but the point is, says Rav Yerucham, that the 613 commandments are linked to the structure of the body.
Rav Yerucham mentions from Rabbeinu Tam that animals are created prostrate while human beings are created upright because the human being has an immortal soul put there by G-d and which eventually returns to G-d for eternity. We come into this world to serve G-d and we go back to Him. Therefore, the human being stands erect; he strives upwards, to G-d; not so with animals. Here, too, the physical structure of the world is intertwined with the concepts of the Torah because G-d looked into the Torah and He created the world. The two go hand in hand because the creation of the world is based on the Torah itself.
The Torah is a continuation of Creation
The Maharal of Prague has another approach to this. He says that the Torah is actually the continuation of creation, which was not complete after the six days. The physical part had been completed but the moral and spiritual part of the world had not been brought to fruition yet because the Torah had not yet been given. Without the Torah, the world was incomplete. We only reach completion when we live in accordance with G-d’s will as He has set out for us in the Torah. The reason why the structure of the laws in the Torah parallels the structure of the creation of the world is because the one is the physical creation of the world, and the other is the spiritual creation of the world. Torah brings the physical world to perfection. All of the commandments of the Torah – how to treat our fellow human beings, giving charity, keeping Shabbos, and everything that comprises Judaism – are there to complete the world. The commandments of the Torah refine us, taking us from a state of incompleteness to a state of completion. Therefore, the Torah is parallel to the world in its structure; it is the continuation of Creation.
Torah is the purpose and foundation of the world
In this vein, the Maharal explains the passage in the Talmud that says that the world was actually in abeyance. The book of Bereishit calls the sixth day of creation yom hashishi “the sixth day”. All of the other days of creation do not have the definite article. For example, it does not say yom hasheni, “the second day”, but yom sheni, “day two”, meaning day two of Creation. Why is this so? Because, says the Gemara, it is referring to a different, specific “sixth day”, the sixth day of Sivan, which was the date the Torah was given. At the outset, G-d said if the children of Israel will accept the Torah at Mount Sinai, good; if not, the world will return to tohu vavohu, chaos and void, as it was before Creation. Thus, the whole of Creation was waiting for the sixth day of Sivan.
The Maharal explains this Gemara to mean not that G-d had completed the world and would reverse the whole Creation if the Jews did not accept the Torah, but rather that the world was not finished being created. The six days of Creation were waiting for their completion and until the Torah came into the world there was just chaos and void. The Torah brought that chaos into order and structure by giving the framework for how to live our lives and in effect completed the process of creation. Thus, the structuring of Creation is exactly the same structure as the laws of the Torah. Torah is part of the process of creation.
This gives us the correct outlook on the world and our lives. Essentially, Torah is not just something “extra”, just a nice thing to have. It is the very framework and foundation that gives structure and order to everything in the world. We should not view our lives and the world as merely physical things. We must understand that this physical world is a shell and that what really matters is what is inside, the soul of the human being and the spiritual and moral code that G-d has given us in His Torah. That is what brings everything to fruition and completion.
On a deeper level, what the Maharal is teaching us is that the Torah is an act of creativity. By living a life of Torah we are constantly involved in the creative process. G-d created the physical infrastructure in the six days of Creation, but on the sixth day of Sivan, when He gave us the Torah, He gave us the spiritual infrastructure for the world.
Living a life of Torah is about creativity, about the process of bringing ourselves, our lives, those closest to us, our families, and our communities to that creative process, to complete the process of creation that was begun by G-d in the six days of Creation.