A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter
Many of us are trying to figure out a new normal as we balance work from home and school at home. There is a struggle within us—which has priority: Work or home? School or home?
Leviticus 12 begins with the laws of impurity and purity surrounding childbirth. (These are very poor translations of the Hebrew words tumah and tahara, but will serve for the purpose of this writing.) The previous chapter, Leviticus 11, discusses the laws of purity and impurity of animals. Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that just as when God created the world, He first created animals and then man, so too, when teaching us about the spiritual state of creation, the Torah begins with animals and ends with man. There is a well-known teaching on this that says:
“If man merits, we say to him, you are primary out of all the creations, but if he doesn’t merit, we say to him, even a lowly worm preceded you.” There are two ways of looking at mankind. We are either the pinnacle, the apex of creation or just the stragglers. A prominent 19th-century Hungarian rabbi expounded on this saying that in one way, mankind is clearly inferior to animals. Animals can forage in their local fields and forests for food and they don’t need any clothing or furnishings, whereas we have to work hard to procure and prepare food, clothing, and housing. But in another sense, he taught, people are elevated and distinguished beyond all animals because we have a purpose and goal in life, which is to serve God and engage in His Torah and this purpose gives us grandeur and importance. That is why the teaching says, if a person “merits”, meaning fulfills his purpose faithfully and strives to reach his potential, we say, “you are the pinnacle of creation”, but if a person, “doesn’t merit”, doesn’t act upon the responsibilities inherent in being a human, then truly all other animals are better than he, because no other creature has to work as hard as he for his basic physical needs. Then we say, “Even a worm is ahead of you”.