“Ain bor yarei cheit v’lo am ha’aretz chassid.” What is the difference between a "bor" and an "am ha’aretz"? We once discussed (here) whether the Torah builds upon man’s baseline humantic-ethical foundation, or whether without Torah there is no normative ethics at all – this is the philosophical meaning of the debate whether Yisro (ethical man) came to join Bnei Yisrael before mattan Torah or afterwards. The MaHaRaL here takes the view that without Torah, “ethical man” is deficient as well. One who lacks the “sichlyus” of Torah is lacking both the spiritual component of life, “ain bor yarei cheit”, but also lacks the base ethical chassidus of moral man, “v’lo am ha’aretz chassid”.
The Torah explains man’s tumah only after listing all the non-kosher animals in last week’s parsha. The Midrash teaches, if man degrades himself, we tell him that even the little mosquito came before him. However, if man is worthy, we tell him that the thought to create man actually preceded that of all other creations. Isn’t this like discussing whether the glass is half-empty or half-full – the volume of the glass is the same, so it’s just verbal gymnastics? Man was b’machshava first, b’ma’aseh last, so what difference does it make how you say it? The answer is (see Sefas Emes) that if man is sichli, he transforms his whole being into sichliyus, and we measure him accordingly by the yardstick of sichliyus as first. But if man degrades himself, he becomes completely transformed into a sub-animal level of being, and is measured by the yardstick of chomer where he is last. It is not the same glass half empty or full, but two different glasses because you cannot balance in the middle. A person is given bechira to either be the glass full of Torah, or the glass empty of even humanity, but (at least within the MaHaRaLian framework) there is no middle ground.