What's in a name?

Science is catching up with mysticism.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

What’s In A Name?
Here is a trivia question for you: Can you name the first scientist in all of history? Here is another question: Is science the work of G-d or does it merely satisfy human curiosity?

If you guessed Adam, you guessed right. If you answered that science is G-d’s work, you are right again.

Adam’s first G-d given task was to name all living things. G-d created animals, birds and insects. Then tasked Adam to study each family within each specie, identify its unique features, and name it accordingly. Hebrew names are descriptive. [1] For example, shor, Hebrew for ox, means ‘strength’. Celev, Hebrew for dog, means ‘all heart’. Adam studied the ox, the dog and every animal on the planet, and assigned each a name that describes its primary characteristic.

The Purpose of Science
Adam’s first G-d given task was to research and discover the magnificence and complexities of G-d’s creation. G-d created a specie called animal, Adam, the first zoologist and animal scientist, discovered hundreds of sub species. Each specie of animal, bird and insect, received a name after Adam determined its distinguishing biological characteristics and behavioral tendencies.

Ever since, humankind has engaged in the study of physics. We constantly discover that what appears simple on the surface is magnificent and multi faceted beneath. Just as Adam discovered hundreds of sub species within each specie, so do we continue to discover multiplicity in what we formerly assumed to be singularity. For example, we now know that what was formerly viewed as solid mass is in reality a cluster of endless molecules and sub atomic particles.

We study science to satisfy our curiosity and to further our understanding of physics. But we might not always realize that the chief proponent of this study is the Creator. G-d appointed the first scientist because He wants us to understand the magnificence of His creation, which in turn feeds our curiosity about G-d. If His works are so magnificent, how splendorous is the Creator Himself.

The more we explore creation, the more we marvel over its Creator. The more we learn about nature, the less we understand G-d. When we study chemistry, biology, geology and cosmology, we realize how much we really don’t know. Each time we scratch the surface, we discover the vastness of creation’s unplumbed depths. If we can’t grasp creation, we certainly can’t grasp Him. And thus, we come to revere Him.

The Spiritual Name
Until this point we developed the scientific aspect of Adam’s name calling. In the scientific model, Adam coined the names based on his observations. We will now explore the spiritual, mystical aspect of Adam’s name calling.

According to Jewish mysticism, each object was created with a name. Just as G-d said in Genesis, “let there be light,” and “let there be grass,” so did G-d say, “let there be stone,” and, “let there be worms, and, “let there be gold.”[2]

The Hebrew letters that comprise a name, represent formulas of spiritual energy. Each of the twenty-two letters represents a specific formula of creative spiritual power and when the letters are merged in a specific sequence, the individual energies are merged accordingly. For example, when G-d merged the creative energies represented by the Hebrew letters, aleph, vet and nun, the resultant mix of energies created a stone. Thus, ‘even’, the Hebrew word for stone, comprises those three letters.

Every creature has a Hebrew name, but without Adam, we wouldn’t have known those names that are not listed in the Genesis narrative. Adam’s genius was his ability to recognize the particular creative energies that formulate each object.[3] From the scientific perspective, Adam’s names described the object’s tendencies and features. From the mystical perspective, Adam’s names described the object’s spiritual DNA.

Revealing the Oneness
On the surface, the scientific and mystical models, are similar. Both maintain that the name reveals something about the animal. The difference between them is, a, whether the revelation is scientific or mystical and b, whether Adam created the names or deciphered them. Outside of these differences the two models parallel each other.

However, upon analyses a deeper understanding emerges. The scientific model is "E unum pluribus,” "out of one, many." The mystical model is the polar opposite, "E pluribus unum," "out of many, one."

The scientific model is to discover the multiplicity and diversity in what appears to be uniformity. To go from simple to complex, from unity to pluralism. The mystical model is the opposite. It takes us from pluralism to unity, from complex to simple. Science demonstrates that each category of species contains many sub species and that each individual species contains many dimensions. Mysticism demonstrates that everything in existence can be boiled down to twenty-two basic spiritual formulas. Furthermore, everything in existence derives from a single source, G-d.

G-d is the realm of oneness; science is the realm of pluralism. Both are true. The universe is complex, consisting of endless features, attributes, species, molecules atoms and dimensions. But this complex universe can be boiled down to a single Creator, to one G-d.

The Modern Adam
You and I are the descendants and successors to Adam. Adam revealed to the world that all of creation pulses with creative energy. What appears to be a lifeless stone, throbs with Divine energy. In other words, Adam revealed G-d’s presence in all of existence.

We too can reveal G-d’s presence in existence. When we make a Jewish home out of a stone, a Torah parchment out of animal hide or help a poor person with a dollar, we reveal the holiness and Divine presence in that physical item. We demonstrate that despite their diversity, everything was created for the same purpose. To serve G-d and to make His world, G-dly.[4]

The incredible thing is that science is catching up with mysticism. Modern scientific revelations demonstrate a tendency toward unity. We now know that mass and energy are two sides of the same coin. We understand that waves and particles are a duality rather than distinct categories. We know that, notwithstanding their surface differences, everything is comprised of the same molecular material. We have broken down all of existence to four basic forces, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak forces. We are hard at work searching for the unifying theory that will wrap all of existence into a single formula adorned with a quantum bow.

The parallel tracks are merging. Science and mysticism are both pointing to the revelation of oneness in G-d’s creation. May the day come soon when G-d’s oneness will be plain for all to see. In the words of the prophet,[5] “the knowledge of G-d will fill the earth as water fills the sea bed.”[6]


[1] Genesis 2:20

[2] See Shaar Hayichud V’haemunah, ch. 1.

[3] Or Torah L’hamagid, 4b.

[4] Likutei Torah, Devarim; 47b.

[5] Isaiah 11:9.

[6] This essay is based on Likutei Sochos v. 38, pp4-5.