The Importance of Origins
“When a woman conceives seed” – This is as it is written, “From behind and before You have besieged me” (Tehillim 139:5)… If a person is worthy, he is told, “You are the pinnacle of all of Creation”; if he is not, he is told, “Even the gnat preceded you; the slug preceded you…”
Rabbi Simlai said: Just as the creation of man came after the animals, the beasts, and the birds, so the Torah teachings pertaining to him appear only after those pertaining to the animals, beasts, and birds, as it is written, “This is the teaching concerning the animals” (Vayikra 11:46), and only afterwards, “When a woman conceives seed” (Vayikra 12:2)." (Vayikra Rabba 14:1)
The midrash here addresses the dual status of the creation of man. Technically speaking, man was created last of all forms of life. But in terms of his essence, man comes first, since the entire world was created for his sake. "The final action starts with intial thought": From the very start of the Creation, God had in mind the human being who would be created at the end, and He planned all of Creation for the benefit of man – like a house, where every element and aspect of construction is directed for the benefit of the person who will be living in it.
The midrash views it as important not just that man preceded all of Creation insofar as God had him in mind throughout the Creation, but also that "the creation of man came after the animals, the beasts, and the birds": he features both at the very beginning and at the very end. In light of the above, the importance of the end is clear: it is the purpose and aim of the entire process, as conceived from the start. But what is the significance of the beginning? Seemingly, the beginning is just one of many steps on the way to the ultimate goal.
The importance of the beginning lies in the very fact that it is the start. The Torah provides several examples that point to the unique qualities of the very first step and the special blessing that may sometimes imbue that stage in such a way that it extends to the future.
After King David gathers from the people the various materials that they have donated for the building of the Temple, he asks of God, "Keep this forever, even the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart unto You" (Divrei ha-Yamim I 29:18): he asks that the enthusiasm and generosity evident in the people when they brought the materials for building the Temple will be preserved forever, and not gradually subside and fade. Initial enthusiasm can bring a person to a very high spiritual level, and one has to know how to maintain that level and not lose it. (On the other hand, there are some areas – such as Torah study – where one is unable to achieve much through initial enthusiasm; real attainments come slowly, and only with ongoing efforts.)
This, in fact, is the idea behind the mitzva of counting the Omer. The Exodus from
A similar idea arises from the command to Aharon to light the Menora: "When you light the lamps, the seven lights shall give light in front of the Menora… And this was the work of the Menora – it was solid gold, extending to its base and to its flowers, all of a solid piece…" (Bamidbar 8:2-4). Why does the Torah need to mention here "the work of the Menora"? We have already read the description of its construction, along with all the other vessels of the Mishkan, in parashat Vayakhel; here the text comes to teach about its lighting. Why, then, the repetition of its construction?
In repeating "the work of the Menora" the Torah comes to teach an important message: even when we reach the stage of day-to-day operations, we dare not forget the beginning, the initial preparation and effort, for it is only thanks to that investment of vision and work that we were able to reach the present stage of routine.
This is especially relevant concerning Yom Ha-Atzma'ut. The developed, flourishing State of Israel is something that we tend to take for granted today. But we dare not forget that the state is not an obvious fact of life; we achieved it through valor and bravery, through the courage and determination that characterized the people who toiled and labored for its establishment, facing dangers and great difficulties. These pioneers realized that the state would not arise if these difficulties were not tackled. It is only out of recognition of this truth that we can appreciate the value of the state and attain the strength that we need to succeed in the many struggles and challenges that still face us.
(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Tazria-Metzora 5756 .)