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Two Minutes of Torah: Bereishit - What's in a Naming?

I imagine that there are many responsibilities which go with being a parent. Alongside the general responsibility of caring for the child, arguably the first one is to give the child a name. When I heard that friends had given birth to children one of the first questions which was asked, was whether a name had been chosen. And watching from the sidelines it has been amazing to see the way in which the children have grown into their names; and how Rafi, Dillon, Benjamin, Maya, Anouska and others are no longer just names, they are now real people.

We people have been giving names since the creation of Adam in this week’s Torah portion. The Torah begins with the story of creation, and in the course of these initial chapters, the first action of Adam is to give names. Observing that ‘it is not good that man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18), God decrees that ‘I will make him a help to match him. And out of the ground Adonai God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them; and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name’ (Genesis 2:18-19).

God could have given names to the animals; after all in the first chapter of Bereishit, during the first three days of creation, God creates and then names. There was light and there was darkness, God named them day and night (Genesis 1:5); the firmament was named Heaven (Genesis 1:8) and the dry land is called earth and the waters are called seas (Genesis 1:10). God has the ability to name, but God chooses to pass this responsibility to Adam; as we read: ‘and Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the bird of the air, and to every beast of the field’ (Genesis 2:20).

So why did God give Adam the task of naming the animals?

On one level this action was a statement about the newly forming partnership between God and humanity. Previously God had created and God had named; but with the animals God created and Adam named. With the creation of humans God had a partner here on earth. And our ability to fulfill a task which was previously Divine, is tangible evidence of the fact that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

On a secondary level the giving of a name also creates a relationship between the namer and the named. As soon as Adam assumed responsibility for naming the animals he entered into a relationship with them; the giving of the names ensured Adam was invested in the animals as part of God’s creation and our fellow inhabitants of the earth.

In Adam’s first action, the first action of any human, our relationship with God and the rest of creation was defined. We assumed a position as God’s partner here on earth; with a responsibility for all that God had created. The challenge which we all face as Adam’s descendants it to truly assume responsibility for the earth and all its inhabitants and to live our lives in ways which makes us worthy of being called God’s partners.

And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: [audio]

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