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First is the Worst,​​​​​Second is the Best

04/16/2021 03:21:40 PM

Apr16

As the oldest of three children, of course I take issue with this saying. I might remind my siblings that the first day of the year, Rosh Hashanah, comes at the holiest time of the year. Also, on the first of every month we celebrate with Halleland public Torah reading. Indeed, first is the best.

However, my younger siblings might remind me of the saying “Acharon acharon chaviv” - the last one is the most dear. After all, only Shabbat, the last day of the week, is called “Kadosh” - holy. So I ask you - who is right? Is it preferable to be first or is the best always saved for last?

The Torah portion opens with the verse, "When a woman conceives and gives birth…" Rashi quotes Rabbi Simlai who attempts to explain why the Torah needed to give these laws specifically here, after the Torah portion from last week which ended with the list of kosher and non-kosher animals. He concludes that just as creation of human beings came after creation of animals, so too are the laws of pure and impure human beings described after those of the animals.

By creating man last, the Torah teaches that our importance depends on how we make use of our lives. Animals act upon instinct but human beings have intellect and choose how to behave. The rabbis explain that man was created last so that if a person gets too full of himself, God can say, "even the tiny mosquito was created before you." If we don't make positive use of our existence then we are the last because we are the lowliest. We had the most potential and we didn't use it. On the other hand, we have the potential to be acharon acharon chaviv, last because we are the most beloved. If we make positive use of our lives, then we are on the top, created at the end just before Shabbat, the holiest day of the entire week.

The Parasha continues to deal in depth with the laws of ritual purity and how to handle tzara’at, a serious bodily affliction that had the potential to spread like a pandemic throughout the community. Our sages connect the physical idea of plague with the spiritual idea of leshon harah - gossip and inappropriate speech about others. The example is given in the Midrash about Miriam who was afflicted with the disease after she had spoken ill of her brother, Moses.

The sages use this opportunity to expound on the ramifications of spreading rumors and distasteful remarks about others. Leshon harah has been compared to opening a bag full of feathers. Even if one wanted to regather all of the feathers, it cannot be done because they have been spread all over by the wind. So it is with leshon harah. Disparaging remarks and ugly speech cannot be taken back, rather it lingers and spreads like a virus, to haunt the victim and the community.

We have a moral obligation to protect those around us physically from public health dangers and not to make them worse. We have a similar obligation to strengthen those around us with our words and never to spread leshon harah, which is as infectious as disease. Let us use our God given potential to make this world a healthier and a holier place. "Who is the person who desires life and years of good fortune?" The Psalmist answers, “Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from deceitful speech. Shun evil and do good, seek integrity and pursue it.”

Perhaps our birth order is as unimportant as our place in the lunch line. Perhaps we were only created after everything else because we have the mandate and potential to care for all God’s creation. May we always think about our responsibility to others first, and may the relationships and bonds that we build always last.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Suson

Sat, July 2 2022 3 Tammuz 5782