Parashas Bereishis

In parashas Bereishis, the Torah relates (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 order of presentation here is odd. The Torah first says that whatever the man was going to call each living creature, that is its name,” and then relates that Adam gave names to all the creatures. It would have been more natural for the Torah first to relate that Adam gave names to all the creatures, and then to say “whatever the man called each one, that is its name.” Why does the Torah present the facts in reverse?
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, the cat specializes in modesty, the ant in aversion to theft, and the dove in loyalty to its mate. Man, on the other hand, possesses the entire gamut of powers and traits. Hashem granted man the free will to choose which to exercise in each situation, and man is ultimately judged according to his choices.
Now, our also Sages teach that each animal’s most prominent trait is reflected in its name. They tell us, for example, that the stork is named chasidah because a stork shows kindness (chesed) to other storks by sharing its food with them. Similarly, they say, the heron is named anafah because a heron quarrels (m’anefes) with other herons. 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” – whatever name Adam would put forward was sure to be the right one.
The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 17:4):
When the Holy One Blessed Be He came to create man, He consulted with the angels, saying: “Let us make man.” They replied: “This man, what is his nature?” Hashem told them: “His wisdom is greater than yours.” He brought before them the domesticated animals, the wild animals, and the birds, and asked: “What is the name of each of these?” And they did not know. He then brought these creatures before Adam and asked: “What is the name of each of these?” Adam replied: “That one is an ox, that one is a donkey, that one is a horse, that one is a camel ….”
At first glance it seems puzzling that Adam knew the names while the angels did not. But, given the idea we just explained, we can see why this was so. Indeed, same 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 –for 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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