At this stressful moment in American politics, the fly has been a silly distraction—or an important political activist. You decide.
When has a tiny insect ever caused such a commotion before? Funny you should ask. Guess what?? The Talmud-- compiled 1500 years ago—contains a number of stories about seemingly insignificant insects who changed the world. In fact, just a few days ago, the national Jewish newspaper, The Forward, published an article exposing this ancient-contemporary situation. The article, entitled, “Pence’s Debate Fly has a Talmudic Ancestor,” tells a dramatic story from the Talmud (BT Gitin 56b) of “another second-in-command who suffered his own infamous brush with a winged insect.” Apparently, Titus, the arrogant general whose destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was commemorated with a giant arch (still visible in the Roman Forum) was conquered by a gnat. Titus wanted to destroy the Jews and set out to prove that our God was not all that powerful. So he challenged God to a competition. God accepted… and sent a gnat into Titus’s nostril to pick at his brain for seven years. Ouch! When Titus finally died, his head was pried open and there, inside, the gnat was found to be “the size of a sparrow or a pigeon… with a copper mouth and iron claws.” That’s quite a gnat!
Elsewhere in the Talmud, our Sages explain (BT Shabbat 77b) that an insect who appears in a story is not to be underestimated. We learn in the Talmud that even seemingly insignificant bugs have medicinal qualities or are agents for delivering punishment. And, the Rabbis teach, “Whatever God created in this world, not one thing was created without a purpose.”
Like in all great literature, a prop can’t appear without a role to play. As the writer, Anton Chekhov, explained, every element in a story must be necessary. "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” Perhaps the little fly who made it into the convention hall in Salt Lake City—now the most famous fly on the planet—was just lost. Or maybe its appearance was significant. What would our Sages say?
Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf