Gan Eden: Adam Names Names

Names, in the Hebrew language, reflect reality.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

When the Almighty was about to create Man, He consulted His heavenly angels. They asked what Man's nature would be. The Lord answered that his earthly wisdom would be greater than the angels', as Man would be of a kind with earthly creations. To prove this, He brought members of the animal world to the angels and they could not
But even if this human knowledge is not the whole truth of the real nature of things, still these names do contain the truth.
name them. Then He presented them to the Man (Genesis 2,19) and he said: "This is an ox, this is a horse, and this a donkey."

And the Lord asked: "And you, what is your name?"

And the man answered: "It is fitting to call me Adam, for I was created from the adamah (earth)."

"And what is My Name?" asked the Lord.

"A-D-N-Y, for you are master of all Creation," said Adam.

And so Rav Acha learned: "I am HaShem, that is My Name." (Haftora parshat Breishit, Isaiah 42,8; Midrash Breishit Rabbah 17,5)

Names, in the Hebrew language, thus reflect reality. Unlike Shakespeare's famous line, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Jews believe that the name makes a difference. Chazal went so far as to say that the mechanism by which the Almighty created the universe involved uttering names: "Light, darkness, sun, moon, earth"; the sounding of the name created the entity and gives it continued existence (see this website, "Mishpatim: Listen Up!", 2/01/2008). They went so far as to say "shma garim" (Berachot 7b), a name is the cause of future occurrences.

It is instructive to see the words of Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch on Genesis 2,19: "Man names things not as God would, for He sees things objectively as they truly are. Man names subjectively, as a fellow living creature (created entity), from his own point of view, according to the impression the things make on him. Thereby Adam indicates the thing's place (sham in Hebrew, related to shem, name) in his world. All knowledge of things is such a name-giving. But "everything man names is lo" (2,19), for himself: subjective. What things really are, their true nature, no human eye sees.

But even if this human knowledge is not the whole truth of the real nature of things, still these names do contain the truth. God guarantees Adam that the knowledge which is granted to man of the nature of things, is no deception. This fraction of the truth is also true. Adam may have confidence that what Man requires in his association with earthly things, for the accomplishment of Man's mission on this earth, is indeed reachable by his wisdom. As in our opening Midrash.

There are practical consequences to this naming process of wisdom. We are assured that we, descendants of Adam, need not waste our time in fruitless Descartian mental meanderings, that perhaps everything that we perceive is not real (that's a great cop-out for all failings in the moral sphere, but try to use it on the bill collector). Again, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch: "Without this belief, theoretical and practical scientific knowledge cannot escape hopeless skepticism, has no guarantee that man is not deducing a dream from a dream, and proving a dream by a dream."

Another consequence: When a man names something, he is proclaiming its essence for himself. And how much more so when he names himself. Thus, despite Israeli and American Leftists who say, "How unfortunate he was given that name, Barack Hussein Obama," Torah and Newsweek magazine say otherwise ("When Barry Became Barack," March 31, 2008). A 20-year-old Barry Obama was looking for "identity and belonging," and he chose Barack Hussein. This is not an "African" name, as Newsweek would have it; it's pure Arabic, and that's how Mr. Obama sees his identity and belonging.
A 20-year-old Barry Obama was looking for "identity and belonging."

Back to our opening Midrash and Haftorah. It opens (Isaiah 42,8) with the Almighty proclaiming His four-letter name, the tetragrammaton, which conveys the sense of Master of History. Then He says: "I created thee as Jacob, formed you as Israel: I have called you by your name, you are Mine." (Isaiah 43,1) In the next verses Isaiah gives the answer to Mark Twain's question about the cause of the indestructibility of the Jewish nation: "For I, God thy God, the Holy One of Israel, am your savior. Every one that is called by My Name (verse 7), who I created and formed.... You are my witnesses, says the Lord."

In the debate over the existence of God, look not to Creation; look no further for proof than the continued existence, and now blossoming, of that nation which left Egypt, talked to God in Sinai and through forty years in the desert, and who have realized the promise: "Fear not, I am with you, from the east will I bring your descendants; from the west will I gather thee; I will say to the north: 'Give them up!'; and to the south, 'Keep them not back'. Bring My sons home form afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth." May this new year, beginning with parshat Breishit, see the full Redemption of Am Yisrael.