Rashi’s Crawlies List

Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures
יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם, שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה

In this week’s parsha, Breishit (Genesis), we get short lists of what was created on each day. On Day 5 God created something called sheretz. What is sheretz? According to Rashi (see a post of mine on Rashi) it is “creepy crawly things” (my words, not Rashi’s). So what are these swarming beings, these beings that Rashi explains as “not high off the ground”? Among the flying creatures, he has the zvuv, the fly. His examples of crawling or slithering creatures are ants, beetles, worms, weasels, mice and snails. And he adds “and the like”, so I looked in Vayikra, where sheretz is also mentioned in connection to kashrut (none of these creatures are kosher), and Rashi there has wasps, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and the word escharbot in Old French, which sounds an awful lot like escargot to me. I find it curious that he has mice and centipedes grouped together. But I suppose if they had invented the microscope in 10th century France, paramecium might be on this list, too.

I also read a piece by Rabbi Abraham Twerski about the parsha. He related the following story:

There was a 96-year-old resident of a nursing home who had not spoken a single word for over a year. No amount of cajoling could get her to speak. It was assumed she was suffering from senile dementia.

One of the volunteers, a young girl of 14, was assigned to sit with this woman. The old woman looked out the window, totally ignoring the young woman’s efforts to engage her in conversation or in an activity. Nothing could distract her from looking out the window.

After an hour, the young woman had just about had it. She arose to leave, but couldn’t help asking, “What are you looking at?” The “demented” old lady looked at her and smiled, “Why, at the light, my child.”

Rabbi Twerski’s comment about this story is that wisdom is often thought of as a kind of light, and most people need to have a practical application in order to value wisdom. But this woman seemed to enjoy looking at the light because … because she enjoyed looking at the light.

So what does this have to do with the insects and mice and weasels? Many of the photo bloggers whose posts I read (or look at, to be more accurate) seem to enjoy photographing these little critters. And this old woman enjoyed looking at the light. And I enjoy looking at the sky and flowers because… because I do.

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4 thoughts on “Rashi’s Crawlies List

  • First of all, I thought I was guessing when I had told the person that the definition of Vayishritzu was to swarm, but looks like I was right. But I said bugs, and living creatures is probably a better word for it.

    Interesting about the sky and flowers, I thought they were nice things to take pictures of, that’s great you enjoy taking the pictures and have a way to share them where people can appreciate them.

  • Babysitter, my husband pointed out that there are probably commentators who have opinions that differ from Rashi’s. Exploring Rashi was enough for me. Next year, I’ll look at Ramban and Sforno and Ibn Ezra…

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