Breishit – Names

What is the purpose of a name?  At the end of the story of creation, the Torah tells us that Adam called every creation by its appropriate name.  What was the purpose of this?  Was it for the sake of each individual creature, or for the sake of man, who was commanded to subdue and utilize the creation?

Rashi (on Gen. 2:19) seems to imply that calling the creatures by their names was for their own sake.  He says, “Every living creature that will be named by man will be so named forever.”  Why would he add the word “forever”?  Apparently, Rashi felt that the purpose of the name was to draw out and emphasize some innate and essential quality of the creation, for otherwise it was not necessary to add the word, “forever.”  So, it seems that according to Rashi, the purpose of names is more for the benefit of creation than for man.

And so the Torah itself seems to indicate.  After the creation story in the beginning of Bereishit, the Torah returns and says, “And God formed all the animals of the field…and brought them to man to see what he would call them, and all the he called the living creatures became its name” (Gen 2:19).  Since the animals and various other creatures already existed, why does the Torah bother to mention them a second time?  It must be that by calling them by name, Adam added something to the creation and imparted new meaning to each creature.  We may conclude then, that according to all opinions, the process of naming the creation was for the purpose of creation itself.

However, this conclusion may be understood in two different ways: 1) either it made each creature recognizable as an individual – in which case it emphasized the creature’s independence and how its existence actually hides and conceals Godliness, or 2) the name enabled man to use each creature for the appropriate purpose and thereby reveal Godliness in the world.  In other words, either the names are a continuation and culmination of God’s creation, or they are part of the effort and goals of man to reveal Godliness in the creation.

During the initial six days of creation, when God uttered the commands to create the universe, only the general categories of creation were included.  We do not find all of the myriad species and specific creations among the initial ten creative utterances.  It was Adam’s “name-calling” that caused every creation to become recognized in its own right.  By calling every creature by its own name, he brought it into revelation as an individual, particular creation, a detail from among the general categories listed during the six days of creation.  In a deeper sense, we might say that by calling the individual creatures by their appropriate names in the holy tongue of Hebrew, Adam revealed their hidden spiritual source.  By revealing their names, Adam revealed the spiritual source of every creation, and attached it to its spiritual source.  More than that, we could say that by calling every creature by its rightful name, according to its spiritual root, Adam caused it to be connected to its spiritual source.

Now we may understand the two opinions that exist regarding whether Adam revealed the names of all creatures, including fish, or only of land creatures.  If the purpose of calling creatures by name was in order to finalize and perfect the process of creation, it was not necessary to call the fish by name.  Since fish are so enveloped by their environment (water) that the die as soon as they are removed from water, they do not need to be identified as individuals.  Only land creatures, which are identified as individuals, need to be called by names.

However, according to the deeper opinion, that calling the creatures by their names served to attach them to their spiritual source and nullify them to God, then all creatures, including fish, need a name.  If the purpose of a name is to reveal the spiritual source of creation, then it is necessary for every creature to possess a name so that it can strive for its source and become one with the Creator.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 35, page 1-6

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