This week's Parshah enumerates the laws of ritual impurity as they pertain to human beings. The Midrash notes that the previous Parshah enumerated laws of ritual impurity as they pertain to animals. The Midrash thus posits that man's laws were enumerated after that of the animal for the same reason that man was created after the animal.

Two reasons are offered for this:

  1. It is fitting that the king enters the banquet hall only after the tables are fully set. Man, the king of all creation, appropriately entered existence only after the stage of creation was fully set.

  2. Should we grow haughty we are to be remember that we were preceded, in creation, by the most insignificant of insects.

At first glance these reasons appear contradictory. The first reason posits that man is king and most superior creature, while the second reason suggests that man is inferior to all other creatures.

Best and Worst

In truth, both reasons are correct, for man is an amalgam of body and soul. The soul is a fragment of the Creator while the body is a part of creation. The soul is lofty and transcendent while the body is inferior and mundane. We cannot take credit for our spirituality for the spirit flows from our soul, which is granted from on high. We can however take credit for our self-discipline and refined characters, for that is the fruit of our own labor.

A child is by nature untamed, drawn to self-appeasement and selfish pleasure. Without instruction and discipline, the child stands at odds with the rigorous laws of our Torah. Even the lowly insect looks down on the untamed human and boasts a superior quality, for the insect cannot and would not defy its Creator's will.

Yet we humans are able to cast our unshaped characters in the mold of the divine, and when we do, we stand at the apex of morality and achievement, at the peak of creation's pyramid. When we master ourselves we are superior to all.


This thought reminds us of the Mishnah's dictum, "Who is mighty? He who masters himself" (Ethics 4 1).