October 16, 2020

Hello out there!
The vice-presidential debate kicked off the new year with lots of drama. Though many critical issues were on the agenda for the two candidates, an unexpected intruder stole the show: A now infamous fly landed on the head of Vice President Pence during the debate. Social media went wild. In the last week, the fly achieved super star status—sporting Twitter accounts and posing all over the internet in memes and cartoons. The fly even scored a coveted Saturday Night Live appearance. My personal favorite meme of “Flygate” imagined Justice Ginsburg hard at work from olam ha ba —the World to Come.
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?

Shabbat shalom!
Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf
Friday, October 16

5-5:25 pm: Musical Tot Shabbat: Join us as we welcome Shabbat with Rabbi Jessica Graf, Cantor Toby Glaser and friends new and old. For children 5 and under plus their families.
6 pm: Kabbalat Shabbat: Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf, Cantor Toby Glaser, and Rabbi Abby Phelps lead Friday night Shabbat services. Unfortunately some names were omitted from last week's yahrzeit list. We will recite them tonight. Please join us tonight to hear these names said in our community.
Torah Study
Saturday, October 17, 9:15 am

Rabbi Abby Phelps will lead a conversation on this week's Torah portion.