I write this as an ode to my uninvited guest: The Fly.
He is circling me now, as I try to wrest precious moments from the myriad duties of the day to write a little. At first, I was frustrated that someone let him in to my room. How hard it is to find some peace in the daily bustle! How sacred to be able to think and reflect in silence!
But it was not to be: So I reconsidered.
And decided to stop.
Instead of reprimanding, instead of complaining, instead of growing angry,
What is the lesson that this Fly has come to teach?
One might often hear this answer; Flies are “annoying”, “pesky”, even “infuriating”.
Some people associate flies with death and decay, others see the fly as a nuisance, an imposition on their own space, and honestly, as I did at first, as a breaker of the peace and quiet they knew before.
There are those who even go so far as to write that flies represent demonic and evil forces, and claim in their misguided writings that the Torah (Hebrew Bible) itself represents these insects this way.
If we look to the traditions of our own Hebrew writings that have been passed down for countless generations, the truth contradicts this superficial, and I would go so far as to say painfully ignorant, perspective. He that paints the fly as a bad thing, a worthless insect that deserves to be swatted or shooed, should himself pause and reconsider.
If we look to the fourth book of Perek Shirah, the Book of Song, the Song of the Fly is enlightening in that it is rather counter intuitive. In fact, it is entirely holy:
זְבוּב אוֹמֵר. בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹסְקִים בַּתּוֹרָה, קוֹל אֹמֵר קְרָא וְאָמַר מָה אֶקְרָא כָּל הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר וְכָל חַסְדּוֹ כְּצִיץ הַשָּׂדֶה: יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ כִּי רוּחַ יי נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ אָכֵן חָצִיר הָעָם: יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ וּדְבַר אֱלֹהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם: (ישעיה מ ו-ח)
The Fly, when Yisra’el is not busying itself with Torah, is saying, “The voice said, ‘Call out.’ And he said, ‘What shall I call out?’ ‘All flesh is grass, and all its grace is as the flower of the field.’ ‘…The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our elo’ah shall endure forever.’” Perek Shirah, Book Four. (Verses from Isaiah 40.6-8)
What wise human being attributed these verses, in song, to the Fly?
One who understood this lesson: The fly has a brief span of life. It is a creature that flies forth to each of us as a reminder of the evanescence of life itself.
It is a creature that, when we ourselves are wise enough to listen to his buzzing word, we take the time to check ourselves.
Are our priorities straight? Have I set aside time to learn a drop of Torah wisdom today? Have I shared any good words with my children, parents, students, family? What, or Whom, am I serving at this moment?
How do we know this?
By looking to the letters of his name
The Fly in Hebrew is called זְבוּב, “Zvoov”
His nature is in his name: from the root ז.ב.ב / Z.V.V.
‘to go hither and thither’, ‘to and fro’, related to the Arabic ذَبَّ (ḏabba).
The root is also related to the word ذَبْذَبَ ( ḏabḏaba ): ‘a thing suspended in the air’.
Now add the Vav, that hook of a letter which ties things and concepts together, and we get:
What is this thing? This buzzing, flying, seemingly omnipresent thing?
What to call it? It is a ZVOOV: “The Creature that Moves To and Fro Suspended in Air”
Is not that a beautiful name? Is not that a beautiful thing to be?
In this sense, a fly is rather like a bird.
Rather like an angel, which in Jewish tradition, is always the carrier of a single mission, or important lesson, to humankind.
Now, how does this aerial acrobat relate to this, our present moment in time?
Aleph: The song of the Fly is drawn from this week’s Haftarah, The Haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu.
Bet: The opening letter of this flier’s name is Zayin, which represents Seven. This is just as this Shabbat Nachamu, The Shabbat of Consolation, inaugurates Seven Weeks of Consolation after the intense, burning, searing pain of our national mourning experienced on Tisha B’Av (The Ninth Day of the Month of Av).
Gimel: Tisha B’Av is ruled by the forces of darkness and destruction. If we are to rebuild a world that is not to be torn down again, if we are to build up a world of light that lasts, we must, as Reb Yoda teaches, “unlearn what we have learned” and retrain ourselves not to destroy things, even a single solitary fly, for no good reason.
Daled: This is one meaning of the verse in Kohelet:
|א זְבוּבֵי מָוֶת, יַבְאִישׁ יַבִּיעַ שֶׁמֶן רוֹקֵחַ; יָקָר מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד, סִכְלוּת מְעָט.||1 Dead flies make the ointment of the perfumer fetid and putrid; so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honour.|
In other words, even if a person is great in wisdom and honor, even if in his own mind his life’s cup is overflowing with his own good deeds, bear in mind that a single transgression, even a small one, if committed in the wrong way at the wrong time, can spoil everything.
There is nothing little about causing a little death, says Kohelet. Even a fly deserves to live his days out in peace.
Hey: Take care, then, and do not harm the messenger of Torah, the messenger of life’s brevity, the creature that is suspended in air
of engagement in the things that matter most.
Be among those who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
As that master of compassionate Haiku, Issa, once wrote,
やれ打つな はえが手をする 足をする
Yare utsuna/ Hae ga tewo suru/ Ashi wo suru
Look, don’t kill that fly!
It is making a prayer to you
By rubbing its hands and feet.
either invite the prayerful Zvuv to be your chavrusa,
(a trusted friend and study partner)
open the window,
let the daylight in
and let your little flying angel,
that tiny messenger of life,
Erev Shabbat Nachamu
Erev Tu B’Av