Sunday, October 14, 2012


Adam. What a Name! (2:20)

No matter how high man soars, if he makes the wrong moves he comes back to what he really is ADAM(a) - dust.


Adam. What a Name! (2:20)

We find later in the parsha (Torah portion) that, “Adam assigned names to all the creatures... (2:20)” The Medrash mentions that G-d challenged the Angels to name the creatures, but they were unable. G-d showed them that man was greater than them, for Adam was able to name all the creatures of the world.            

Hebrew names, unlike names in other languages, are not merely arbitrary unique labels. Assigning Hebrew names to the animals was defining their very essence. The Hebrew word “Shor”, for example, defines the physical and spiritual essence of what an ‘ox’ is. This is true for all the other creatures of the world. This is something the angels were incapable of providing.                                                                          

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch relates the word ‘shem’ [name] to ‘sham’ [there]. The assignment of a name defines where a being exists spiritually.  The Medrash then relates that G-d asked Adam to give himself a name and Adam responded that a fitting name for himself would be Adam, “For I was created from the earth (adama).”     

Here, seemingly, Adam failed. When it came to the ox, Adam was able to define his physical and spiritual essence and give it the name ‘shor’. He did not deal with the superficialities and the surface. But when it came to his own name, it seems he just made a simple pun. I should be called ADAM because I was created from the ADAMa.                 

The Alter from Slabodka says this was a great insight on Adam’s part. The challenge of man is to always remember that he comes from the ground. Man can indeed achieve the highest level of spirituality. His wisdom may, in fact, be greater than that of the Angels but it can all fall apart in a split second. Man is very human and very frail, because ultimately he came from the dust of the earth.                                                            

No matter how high man soars, if he makes the wrong moves he can come back to what he really is ADAM(a) - dust. Behind all his potential and greatness man is very earthy and earthly.                           

Many question the choice of the Torah reading for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. In the morning we read the Torah portion from Acharei Mos describing the High Priest’s service in the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. We soar, spiritually, at the description of the Temple Service.

Yet at Mincha on Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the chapter of the forbidden sexual liaisons. We are warned not to commit incest and other forms of sexual immorality. We are even warned against committing acts of bestiality. These acts are the lowest of the low. Is this appropriate for Yom Kippur?! Could not the Rabbis find a more inspirational Torah Reading than this?                                                                                    

The answer is that this is just what we need to hear on Yom Kippur. We should never make the mistake that just because we are soaring in the clouds with the angels that it cannot all come crashing down the day after Yom Kippur. In the final analysis, we must always remember that we are physical, we are not angels. There is a component of man that is very, very tied to this earth, with earthly pleasures and earthly desires.                        

The wisdom of Adam was to realize this and give himself a label by which he could never think, “I am beyond that.” It is always feasible and always possible to slip back. We have temptations of human beings and we must constantly be on guard against them.

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