I spent just a few minutes researching flies. I couldn’t find too much useful information about them. I learned that once the adult house fly hatches from the pupal stage, it has an approximate life span of 15 to 30 days. I also learned that a female house fly can lay up to 500 eggs in a three to four day period; and that although house flies tend not to leave — they can travel up to six miles in 24 hours.
What I couldn’t seem to find out was the purpose of the fly. What exactly does the fly contribute to nature and the world, or in short, why did G-d create flies?
What brought me to check out flies?
Rashi points out that the order of the Torah seems reversed. In last week’s parsha the Torah spoke about animals: “These are the rules regarding animals” (Lev. 11:46), and in this week’s parsha we begin to learn about rules for man. “Rabbi Simlai taught that just as the creation of man followed the creation of animals, so too do the rules for man (brit mila and tahara) follow the rules regarding animals (shechita and kashrut)” (Rashi Vayikra 12:2).
Of course, the teaching of Rabbi Simlai begs the question: why in fact were animals created before man?
A look in the Midrash (14:1) gives us the full answer. “Reish Lakish taught that actually sometimes man comes before animals, and sometimes animals come before man; this teaches us that if a man reaches his potential we can tell him: ‘You have preceded every creation in the world’, but if he hasn’t we can tell him: ‘Even a fly was created before you!’”
So I began to wonder how a fly could possibly be greater than a man. What possible lofty position can the fly have in G-d’s world that could give it precedence over man? I learned that unlike all other animals and creatures, the fly cannot be trained, even after 15 years! (I’m not sure how they worked that out considering flies only live thirty days – but then I’m not a scientist.) So how can we possibly be worse?
Then I realized that the answer lies in the question. Reish Lakish, a great man who realized, late in life, that he had a noble purpose and a historical mission to fulfill in life, was trying to describe the condition of a man or woman that has never reached their potential. He searched the animal kingdom for a creature of G-d that seemed to have no redeeming purpose, and he came to consider the fly. The fly, he argued, is an accurate comparison to a certain type of human being. Every person is created with the ability to move mountains and shake the Heavens; each one of us has an entire potential to realize. But what happens if we don’t?
The answer is that we become something like a fly, of which everyone wonders: “Why did G-d create that thing anyway?”
On the other hand, seeing that G-d indeed did create the fly, and did not give it the ability to choose between good and evil, we must believe that it was created for a purpose, and that somehow by buzzing around on our windows, it is in fact accomplishing its mission!. This alone puts it one notch above the human who is going nowhere. Hence Reish Lakish’s formulation that when man fulfills his potential there is no creature that can compare to him; he is true to his being created “in the image of G-d”. But if he decides to just sit around, exist and go nowhere, well then, a fly has one up on him!.
In general, I am not obsessive; in fact sometimes I’m afraid I’m a little too relaxed and laid back. I do, however, suffer however from the “fly syndrome”. I am totally concerned that too much of life may go by before I get that “Aha!” moment, the moment of clarity where your raison d’être becomes apparent.
There is another reason we were created last: so that by the time we get here, the entire world is already available, at our disposal and ready to help us reach unimaginable heights. May we all be privileged to experience that day.
By Rabbi Yaacov Haber