Parashas Shemini

Near the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah describes the kosher and nonkosher animals, fish, and birds. The Gemara expands on this topic at the end of the third chapter of meseches Chullin. Two of the birds included in the list of nonkosher birds are the chasidah (stork) and the anafah (heron). The Gemara states that the chasidah is named after the fact that a chasidah shows kindness (chesed) by sharing its food with other chasidos. Similarly, they say, the anafah is named after the fact that an anafah quarrels (m’anefes) with other anafos. We see from this, the Maggid says, that each animal’s most prominent trait is reflected in its name.
The Maggid builds on this principle to explain the passage in the Torah about how Adam named the various creatures. The Torah says (Bereishis 2:19-20): “Now, Hashem, God, had formed from the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the sky, and He brought them to the man, to see what he would call each one – and whatever the man was going to call each living creature, that is its name. And the man gave names to all the domesticated animals, to the birds of the sky, and to all the wild animals of the field ….” The Maggid notes that we would expect the Torah to relate that Adam gave names to all the creatures, and then to say “whatever the man called each one, that is its name,” but instead the Torah reverses the order. Why does the Torah take this odd approach?
The Maggid explains as follows. The animal kingdom encompasses a wide variety of traits, both good and bad. Hashem, in His wisdom, systematically apportioned these traits among the various animal species. Since animals have no free will, each one acts wholly in accordance with its own innate traits; no animal ever adopts the behavior pattern of a different animal. Thus, as our Sages teach (Eruvin 100b), the cat specializes in modesty, the ant in avoidance of theft, and the dove in loyalty to its mate. Man, on the other hand, possesses the entire gamut of powers and traits, and Hashem granted him the free will to choose which to exercise in each situation. Since man encompasses all the traits of the all the animals, he is familiar with all these traits and understands how each should be named. We can now see why the Torah says that “whatever the man was going to call each living creature, that is its name.” The Torah is teaching that whatever name Adam would put forward was sure to be the right one.
The Maggid uses the same idea to explain the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 17:4 that states that the angels, unlike man, could not propose suitable names for the animals. The Maggid explains that the differentiation that prevails in the animal kingdom also prevails in the celestial realm. Each angel has a specific role: some specialize in dispensing compassion, others in dispensing retribution, and so on. Hashem apportioned powers and traits among the angels according to these roles. Each angel possesses its own distinct set of powers and traits, different from that of any other angel. Thus, our Sages teach that an angel can carry out only one mission (Bereishis Rabbah 50:2) – the reason is that it only has the tools for one role. Accordingly, none of the angels could name the animals, for each angel was familiar only with its own specific traits, and had no grasp of any others. Only Adam, who possessed all the traits, knew how to give each animal its proper name.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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