Author's Note on Parshat Bereishit
Date: October 6, 2018
27 Tishrei 5779
In Parshat Bereishit, right after G-d decided that man should not live alone and before G‑d created a helpmate for Adam, there is an interesting transitional passage. G-d brought all the animals He had created to Adam to see what Adam would name them. Whatever name Adam gave them is what they would be called.
That seems like an odd request. Why did G-d need to bring the animals to Adam to be named? Shouldn’t Adam have said something like “Look G-d – I’ve been alive for about a day and a half or so. YOU created these things so why don’t YOU name them? I don’t even know what they do yet.” Instead, G-d created Adam in such a way that he had the innate ability to see the situation clearly and know each animal’s essence sufficiently to give each one an appropriate name.
To understand an important lesson from this passage, consider the context.
Before G-d brought the animals to Adam, the action in the Torah narrative was all “up there;” the Torah was focused on what G-d was doing to this world. After this passage, the focus is all on how Adam will interact with the world G-d created “down here.” But before Adam can do anything, he had to learn that he was imbued with the ability to see and understand the world around him in a unique and significant way. He just needed to focus on the truth and essence of his surroundings.
In the daily morning liturgy, we praise G-d for renewing creation each and every day. In that sense, we are like Adam. Every day, G-d puts in front of us a new “creation.” And, like Adam, G-d offers us the opportunity to call it like we see it.
When our kids were younger, we sometimes played a game based on the lyrics of a Simon and Garfunkel song. We would ask them “Would you rather be a hammer or a nail? Would you rather be a forest or a tree? Would you rather be an ocean or a stream? Would you rather be a bird or a lion?” On it went, and then we would ask them why they chose what they did. It was always fascinating to learn how they saw qualities about themselves and the world around them that guided their choices.
What about us? When we read the Torah on Simchat Torah, did we see an ending or a new beginning? When we go through our day, do we see problems or opportunities? Are we facing a dead end or a false start? Do we see and judge what is around us for the good or not?
G-d sets before us, each day, a new creation and asks us to give it a name. Whatever we call it, that is what it will be.