Thursday, October 11, 2012

my name is mud

It is very hard to get back into the swing of work after a long Yom Tov, so once again little time to write.  Two brief thoughts on the parsha:

 א"ר אחא בשעה שבא הקב"ה לבראת את האדם נמלך במלאכי השרת אמר להן נעשה אדם אמרו לו אדם זה מה טיבו אמר להן חכמתו מרובה משלכם הביא לפניהם את הבהמה ואת החיה ואת העוף אמר להם זה מה שמו ולא היו יודעין העבירן לפני אדם אמר לו זה מה שמו אמר זה שור זה חמור זה סוס וזה גמל ואתה מה שמך אמר לו אני נאה להקרא אדם שנבראתי מן האדמה

1. The Midrash writes that when Hashem consulted with his angels in creating man, the angels asked, "What is man's nature?"  Hashem responded that man is greater in wisdom then they are.  He brought before the angels each of the animals that had been created and asked them what its name was.  The angels were unable to answer.  However, when Hashem brought each animal before man, man gave a name to each one in turn (Braishis 2:19).  Hashem then asked man what his own name was, and man replied, "Adam -- because I was created from adamah [dirt]."   

Obviously the naming of animals was more than a matter of semantics or coming up with some random combination of letters and vowels that would be unique to each creature.  It is impossible to believe that angels couldn't do that, or that the ability to do so is more indicative or man's wisdom than other cognitive tasks.  When the Torah tells us that man named each animal, it means that man was able to intuit that animal's essence and purpose and ascribe to it a name that perfectly fit it's spiritual character (see Tanya, Sha'ar haYichud, perek 1).  The angels lacked that same level of perception. 

If so, isn't it odd that man should give himself like "Dirt"?  Shouldn't man's name better reflect his own spiritual potential, especially given his having chochma greater even than that of the angels? 

That Alter of Slabodka (quoted in the Sichos of the Alter, vol 2) explains that the greatness of man is precisely the fact that he has the ability to reflect and show the self-awareness that despite his great wisdom, he is no more than a creation made from a pile of dirt and can sink as fast as he rises.  No other creation, either beast or angel, has the same ability to reflect on its own shortcomings and fraility, either physical or moral.

2. The Netziv notes that the Torah repeatedly refers to Adam and Chavah in the plural, e.g. "Sheneyhem arumim v'lo yisboshashu," (2:25), right up until after the sin of eating from the eitz ha'da'as.  The plural, "Vatipakachna einei sheneyhem vayed'u ki eirumim heim..."  is followed by a switch to the singular, "Vayischabei ha'adam v'ishto," Adam and Chavah each  hid (3:8).  The Netziv explains the switch in language as purely a function of practical necessity.  There was no place that would cover the nakedness of both Adam and his wife properly if they stayed together, so they were forced to go their separate ways into hiding.  I think perhaps there is a psychological dynamic at work here as well.  The Torah is telling us that sin creates a wedge between the sinner and even those closest to him.  The sense of wrongdoing and embarrassment isolate the individual from others.  Adam and Chavah shared what for all intents and purposes was the same wrongdoing, yet after the fact there was now a sense that they were not longer a perfect unit -- each went his/her own way into self imposed hiding.  Hiding from whom?  Not only from G-d, but from each other. 


  1. Replies
    1. About #2, I would say that a sinner is in fact hiding from himself. Another person is uncomfortable because it forces one to recognize self. Thus, nakedness is the same problem - exposure of oneself. Clothing is therefore necessary to cover and hide from oneself, since he is ashamed of his sin.

    2. About #1 (we're working backwards here), the Maharal asks why man is named after adamah if animals were created from land as well. His answer would answer your question as well: the property of land is that it has endless potential to produce - it can produce trees, fruit, etc.. So too man has unlimited potential. Thus, he is the only one to be named after adamah - not animals with their limited capabilities. Adam therefore represents his infinite potential, and is a great name.

  2. Great piece. Netziv's question is brilliant and your answer is phenomenal.

  3. Anonymous1:33 AM

    1. >>> The angels were unable to answer.

    but grant them equal hearing: what would the angels have named themselves, had Hashem asked them?

    >>> the greatness of man...

    some of man's deepest reflections root in his mortality-- (a variant of)
    the first cheit as an aveira lishma? [man must actualize the fast "sink" to really feelingly reflect] did Hashem add to man's inner dimensions with the fact of death?

    2. as one unit, truly "mud"; after the cheit, dried dirt that crumbles...

  4. Interesting- Rav Kook makes much of the idea that sin if pirud. For example, he says that Korach proclaimed equality and unity, but the unfortunate result was division and ripping apart. Moshe required division, but his way led to unity.

  5. I was also thinking of the hiding from oneself idea, but didnt think it fit the context so well.
    The Maharal is a different answer -- the more the merrier.

    Glad you liked my answer Binyomin.

    Since we're not too far from Yom Tov -- 'kashe alei preidaschem'=a lack of integration on the level of tzibur, but also on the individual level feeling torn apart and pulled in different directions.