Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tazria: Counting Either Way

The following is an abridged version of these ideas

According to Rashi the juxtaposition of the end of Shmini and the start of Tazria conveys the idea that just as in creation animals preceded people, so too in regard to laws of purity and impurity animals come first, followed by people. There is a similar Rashi regarding Yaakov meeting Eisav and organizing his family (Vayishlach 33:2). This is the concept of "acharon acharon chaviv" - the best comes last.

On the other hand, first is best. First born gets honor and privilege. The first of the month (which we will celebrate this Tuesday) and the first of the year are days of prestige. The first aliyah of Torah reading is presented with honor to a Kohein.

Both are true: When one thing precedes another and the first is a means and the second the end, then the last is more important. Shabbat is more important than the days that precede it because the rest of the week is preparation for Shabbat. And this serves as a metaphor for this world and Olam Habah. In the words of Chazal: “He who works diligently before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat.” When we live up to our potential everything was created for us, it all leads up to us, and that is why we were created last.

On the other hand G-d reminds us when we stray, "even the gnat was created before you." Last is only best if what comes last elevates and transcends what came before it. When last misses its spiritual calling, then it's first come first served, and whoever was physically created first is more esteemed, and last is last on the totem pole.

What really matters is how you use your position. Being first gives you a chance to thrive in a new place and in a fresh way. Being last allows you to build on what has come before. In our life we all are neither exclusively first nor last. In our lives we all have a first grade and a last, a first job and a last, a first love and a last. Each comes with its advantages and disadvantages. 

Regarding wisdom Chazal say that the education of a young person is comparable to writing on clean paper, which is better than writing on erased paper (Avot 4:25). Conversely, we are told that there is no one who is wiser than an experienced person (Mili De’Avot 10b).

May all of us be blessed with the best elements of both being first and being last in life.


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