Inconsistencies III: Fleas On My Mind

Jun 3rd, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
I can’t catch this tiny thing! The computer screen’s light attracts it and it keeps on flying in front of me, and when I wave it away, it flies near my ear to make a tortuous sound. A tiny bug is proving a greater adversary than some much larger people.

Tiny bugs can be evil. In Balzac’s “Droll Stories” the nuns of the merry monastery of Poissy explain to a naive novice how one must go about telling whether the captured flea is male, female, or virgin, but finding a virgin flea is extremely rare “because these beasts are unmannerly, they are all lascivious sluts, who give themselves to the first comer.”

In the popular mind the flea, as for that matter, in the Talmud and Midrash also the fly, is related to the Devil. In “Faust,” at Auerbach’s inn, Mephistopheles is applauded by everyone when he starts to sing the song of the king who had a huge flea, loved it like a son, kept him as a child, and had a silk and velvet suit cut for him.

The flea is diabolic in its ability to escape capture with a leap so swift that it abruptly eludes the eye and seems to disappear. God may be, ‘inordinately fond of beetles,” (J.B. S. Haldane) but He certainly gifted the tiny flea with great powers.

The spies felt small and insignificant. They contrasted themselves to, “the sons of the giant from among the Nephilim,” (Numbers 13:33) and immediately were deflated into thinking of themselves as insects. They carried super large fruit with them and felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag. The same man who was a giant in Lilliput was able to adjust to being the size of an insect, but the spies could not handle the adjustment.

Their mistake was not in perceiving themselves as insects, but in refusing to adjust to their new size. We all experience highs and lows. Our encounters with life are inconsistent. We have moments of great accomplishments when we feel like giants, and failures when we feel like insects. We adjust. The spies did not. They refused to adjust, which reflected a total lack of understanding all they had experienced thus far.

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