Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams
Metzora: We Love to Bug ~ Tzvi Abrahams
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
דַּבְּרוּ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יִהְיֶה זָב מִבְּשָׂרוֹ זוֹבוֹ טָמֵא הוּא Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and say to them: “[any] man who will have a flow from his flesh, its flow is impure.”1
Eretz Yisrael is referred to as אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָבוּדְבָשׁ/aland flowing with milk and honey, where זָבַתmeans flowing.
The flesh that the above verse speaks about from where the flow is emitted is from the man’s ervah/nakedness. The fact that the flow comes from this area is symbolic that this type of impurity comes from a sickness that is in the heart of man, namely having improper thoughts.2These improper thoughts are expressed as a zav/emission, an impure outflow from the body in this area.
In the Midrash Rabbah, it says that Hashem will inflict one who sins in his youth withzavusand tzara’as, not so much as a punishment, but as a means to hint to the person that he needs to change his ways and do teshuvah.3As we know, the body’s ailments are not just happenstance, but are signals for us to awaken from our spiritual slumber and change our ways.4
In the same way as the זָב/zav, whose impure flow from within is a signal from Hashem for him to change his ways, so too the זְבוּב/fly is a signal from Hashem for us to change.
Why did Hashem create the fly? We know that there is nothing in Creation that does not have a purpose.
Before Adam sinned there was no need for flies. As a result of man’s sin, the earth was cursed and the fly was born — not only born but airborne — to do its job of bugging man! The fly is the king of all bugs because it bugs us the most.
The Midrash clearly states that flies are Hashem’s messengers.5
The fly is one of my favorite creatures with whom I have a love/hate relationship.
While on holiday in my youth, I was in a hot climate where there was an abundance of flies. I began to observe them and noticed a certain pattern in their behavior, to the point where I could control them! I observed that whenever I was having bad thoughts, the flies would come and bug me, and when my thoughts were clean, they would leave me alone and instead bug someone else.
It was clear to me that Hashem was sending these creatures to bug us purposely, not randomly, as a litmus test to see where we were holding with regard to our thoughts. It caused me to become more aware and ask myself what it was that I was thinking about that was bugging Hashem that He in turn was bugging me to change my thoughts from impure to pure.
In secular literature, I had read that there was a being referred to as the “Lord of the Flies,” a rebellious angel called Beelzebub who had fallen from Heaven, which in Hebrew means “lord of the flies,” and in the Torah is a form of idol worship.
As I became more religious, I discovered with great joy that the commentary of the Kli Yakar in Bereishisquotes Chazal as referring to the yetzer haraand the Satan as a fly!6Just like the yetzer haracrouches at the opening, so too the fly does.7The mouth of the fly is too weak to inflict a wound on its own; instead, it waits until there is an existing wound and then makes it bigger. Similarly, the yetzer haracannot inflict any harm on someone who is in a state ofshleimus/perfection; rather, he waits for him to make an opening, where he then enters and makes the opening bigger.
A sure way to know if we have or have not achieved the lofty goal ofshleimusis whether flies bother us or not. We see this with the prophet Elisha, whom the Shunamite woman recognized as a holy man since she never saw any flies around his table.8
Anyone who has spent hours lying on a beach will testify to the fact that flies are partial to one’s feet and ankles. Now that we see the connection between the fly and the Satan, we can piece the pictures of the puzzle together. The Satan, in the form of the snake, was punished in that he had to walk on his stomach and could only inflict pain on man’s heel, yetman has the power to step on him. Man’s weakest point is the heel (in Greek mythology, his “Achilles’ heel”), because that is the place where the snake can inflict its bite. Rashi, in the beginning of Parshas Eikev, relates that if we trample with our heels on the small mitzvos and treat them lightly, it will lead us to trample on the bigger mitzvos. Just like the poison of the snake travels from the heel upward to the head, so too the yetzer haracauses us to transgress the light mitzvos with our heels, and then one thing leads to another.9
Once there is a breach in the armor, the poison spreads. This is the power of the snake, and this is the power of the fly.
The Gemarawarns a person with tzara’asto be careful of flies because the flies love open wounds and can cause disease to spread.10
In this week’s parshah, the Kli Yakar compares the speakers of lashon harato flies. Just like flies are not found by people who are shalemand are only found by people who have blemishes, so too speakers oflashon haraleave people alone if they have a good name and only attack people with blemishes in an attempt to widen their blemish and spread the disease.
One of my chavrusas,Binyamin, once said: “If you keep your mouth shut, the flies can’t come in.”
Anotherchavrusa,Amos, once said that the flies are just like Arabs in that they have their hands in everything, just like flies that have no concern for borders. In the Midrash Tanchuma,thegoyimare also compared to flies.11One of the rabbis was admiring the stature and regal appearance of one of the Romans. Afterward, the rabbi and his friend were passing through the market, and when they saw a basket of dates and figs crawling with flies, the rabbi’s friend told him that the Romans and goyimwere no different than the flies in that Hashem uses them as hissheluchim, quoting the pasukthat Hashem sends the flies to do battle against us, referring to the armies of Sancherev.
Have you ever wondered where the flies go to in the winter?
Referring to my essay on the חוֹרֶף/winter,12the wintertime is the season where everything appears to be dead. In actuality, however, it is the beginning of life, the stage of youth in which one has not fully developed his individuality, as evidenced by the fact that he is not even accountable for sin by the Heavenly Court until reaching the age of twenty. Until one is twenty, one is very much under the domain of the yetzer hara, where everyone believes the whole world revolves around him. This is most prevalent in younger children — the younger the child, the purer the yetzer hara. It is only when one starts to develop as a man does the fly come to attack. This occurs in the spring and summertime of one’s life, when one’s fruits are developing and maturing. Here is when the flys strikes. Where there is an abundant of fruits, there is an abundant of fruit flies. The idea is that Hashem bugs us because He wants us to purify ourselves and become shalem/complete. When the flies finally leave us alone, as they did with the prophet Elisha, then it signals that we have reached shleimus.
One last point: Given an empty barrel of dung and an empty barrel of honey, which do you think the flies would be more attracted too? Most people would say the dung, but, in actuality, the flies are more attracted to the sweetness of the honey. This analogy is compared to the difference between the dead bodies of a goyand a Jew. The forces of tumahgather around the body of a Jew, for this is where the most taharahhas been, leaving behind the remnants of sweetness that the flies are attracted to, whereas with a goythere is little or no comparison.13
This is the love/hate relationship of a זְבוּב/fly. Like a זָב, itflows from a place of tumahto reveal to us our shortcomings. Hashem loves us, so He bugs us and wants us to change.
See Appendix iv, the Song of the Fly.
3Vayikra Rabbah 18:1.
5Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev3, on the verse in Yeshayahchap. 7.
6Kli Yakar to Bereishis 4:7.
7Brachos 61a: אמר רב, יצר הרע דומה לזבוב.
9See essay to Parshasעקבon the root עקב.
11Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev3.
12See Parshas Kedoshim.
13Ohr HaChaim to Bamidbar 19:2.