Dvar Torah by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
The Torah portion (Shemini) preceding the laws concerning proper speech, delineated those animals which are tamei (unclean) and which may not be eaten. The Midrash states that after discussing unclean animals, the Torah then cites conditions which render a person tamei. Rashi says that just as animals preceded man in creation, the law pertaining to animals preceded those pertaining to man.
There is also a Midrash that states that if a person lives a proper life as befits a human being, he is consider the first of creation, because the Divine idea of creation was that there should be a human being that would recognize and worship God. If, however, man fails to develop his unique abilities, he is told, “The lowly insect preceded you in creation.”
Precisely because a human being has a physical body that has many animalistic drives, a person who subdues these drives in the interest of drawing closer to God actually surpasses angels in spirituality. Angels are holy because they were created holy, whereas man becomes holy through his own effort.
However, man may descend to a level beneath that of animals. Animals have inborn limitations to their bodily drives. They eat to provide the necessary nutrients for the body, and then they stop. They mate to preserve the species, and then they stop. Even predatory animals kill only for their food, but when they are not hungry, they will not kill unless provoked. Animal drives are in the interest of survival.
Man, on the other hand, is not bound by such limitations. Man may indulge far in excess of bodily needs, and man may pervert his urges. Indeed, man may indulge himself to the point of self-destruction. Furthermore, whereas predatory animals kill only for self-survival, man’s aggressiveness can be totally senseless. When a person corrupts his bodily drives, he sinks to a level lower than animals.
When a person fulfils himself spiritually, he becomes the primary goal of creation, and he not only precedes animas, but also precedes angels, who were not created until the second of the six days. However, if he fails to live a spiritual life, he deteriorates to a level beneath an insect.
Although the human ego-drive may lead a person astray, there is one aspect of the ego-drive that is constructive. We should be proud to be the goal of creation.