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What is the purpose of God asking Adam to name the animals?

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In Bereishit 2:19 God brings all the animals to Adam to see what he will name them. This has long puzzled me, because:

  • God created them and already knows their functions (He doesn't need Adam to tell Him).
  • God, having made Adam and especially b'tzelem Elokim, in the divine image, knows Adam's capabilities. God does not need to test to see if Adam can produce the correct answers. (But see Chizkuni below.)
  • It doesn't seem to have a practical effect. Why does it matter what Adam names the animals?

I looked at some (English-language) commentaries but still feel like I'm missing the point. Here's what I've learned so far:

  • Rashi says it is to establish, on the very day the animals were created, that they are subjugated under Adam, but this is already said explicitly in Bereishit 1:28 where God tells Adam to rule over them.

  • S'forno says that bringing the animals before Adam was so Adam would realize he didn't have a partner like the animals do, but that doesn't specifically require naming them, just inspecting them. S'forno also says that the names give us a clue to each animal's function, but wouldn't divinely-issued names have done that more clearly?

  • Chizkuni seems to say that it was a test: "G-d wanted to find out how Adam reacted to the living soul He had blown into his nostrils i.e. if he would be able to correctly name the various species that fitted their nature." I'm having trouble understanding what this test shows. I'm not saying it never makes sense for God to test people; clearly He does in other places, including Avraham and Iyov. But that's after the expulsion from Gan Eden, after gaining the benefits of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, when people's character and fortitude can be in question.

Maybe it's any or all of those, and I'm just not properly understanding it (as indicated in my comments on each). What am I missing? What is the purpose(s) of having Adam name the animals?

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4 answers

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I understood that it was to give the angels an appreciation of what man can be based on Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3

(מלכים א ה, יא): ויחכם מכל האדם, אדם הראשון מה היתה חכמתו, את מוצא כשבקש הקדוש ברוך הוא לבראת את האדם נמלך במלאכי השרת, אמר להם (בראשית א, כו): נעשה אדם בצלמנו, אמרו לפניו (תהלים ח, ה): מה אנוש כי תזכרנו. אמר להם אדם שאני רוצה לבראת חכמתו מרבה משלכם, מה עשה כנס כל בהמה חיה ועוף והעבירן לפניהם, אמר להם מה שמותן של אלו, לא ידעו, כיון שברא אדם העבירן לפניו אמר לו מה שמותן של אלו, אמר, לזה נאה לקרות שור, ולזה ארי, ולזה סוס, ולזה חמור, ולזה גמל, ולזה נשר, שנאמר (בראשית ב, כ): ויקרא האדם שמות. אמר לו ואתה מה שמך, אמר לו אדם, למה, שנבראתי מן האדמה. אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא אני מה שמי, אמר לו ה', למה, שאתה אדון על כל הבריות, היינו דכתיב (ישעיה מב, ח): אני ה' הוא שמי, הוא שמי שקרא לי אדם הראשון, הוא שמי שהתניתי ביני לבין עצמי, הוא שמי שהתניתי ביני לבין בריותי.

(I Kings 5:11) “And he was wiser than any man (literally, than all of Adam),” than the first Adam. And what was his wisdom? You find that, when the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to create the first Adam, He consulted with the ministering angels. He said to them (in Gen. 1:26), “Let us make humankind (Adam) in Our image.” They said to him (in Ps. 8:5), “What is a human that You are mindful of him?” He said to them, “This Adam that I want to create Adam shall have wisdom greater than yours.” What did He do? He gathered all cattle, wild beasts, and fowl to pass before them. He said to them, “What are the names of these [beings]?” They, however, did not know. When He had created Adam, He made them pass before him. He said to him, “What are the names of these [beings]?” He said, “It is fitting to call this one an ox, this one a lion, this one a horse, [...]” and so on for all of them. It is so stated (in Gen. 2:20), “So Adam recited names”31 He said to him, “And you, what is your name?” Adam said to him, “Adam, because I was created out of the ground (adamah).” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “I, what is My name?” He said to him, “The Lord, because you are Lord over all creatures,” namely as written (in Is. 42:8), “I am the Lord, that is My name,” which the first Adam gave me. It is the one which I have agreed to [for use] between Me and Myself; it is the one which I have agreed to [for use] between Me and My creatures.

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Oh, proving it to the heavenly host! I didn't think of that. Thank you for the info and source. ‭Monica Cellio‭ 15 days ago

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וַיִּ֩צֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָ֗ה כָּל־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיָּבֵא֙ אֶל־הָ֣אָדָ֔ם לִרְא֖וֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא־ל֑וֹ וְכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִקְרָא־ל֧וֹ הָֽאָדָ֛ם נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּ֖ה ה֥וּא שְׁמֽוֹ:

Rav Hirsch translates the pasuk diffferently than Sefaria.org or chabad. He translates it as

Then Hashem drove all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air of the world together, and brought them to Man so that he would see what to call them for himself, and everything which Man as a living person names for himself, that is its name.

Rav Hirsch points out that of course the animals and birds had been created earlier.

ויצר according to the sages in Bereishis Rabba not to be taken as "formed", for the creation and formation of animals took place before that of mankind, but in the meaning of כבוש, mastering, forcing, as in תצור אל עיר. Althiugh the underlying conception of תצור from צרר is to limit, constrain, press, cramp, so indeed is that of יצר.

Thus the giving of the animals to Man for naming shows the subjugation of the living beings to mankind. Rav Hirsch states that this is because Man gives names based on the subjective impression that these things make on him. Thus Hashem could not give the names because He would be naming them objectively and not subjectively.

It is according to the impression they make on him that he gives things names. In these names, he expresses the impression which his imagination forms of things, and thereby he indicates their שָם (hence the word שֵם) place in his world, ranks themin the appropriate kind, species etc. of things

Rav Hirsch points out that not only does this show that Adam is to be the ruler over the natural world, but that none of them can be considered his partner in the endeavor.

That this name giving did rest on recognition - even if only a subjective one - of the nature of things is evident from the fact that here Hashem led all the living creatures to Man, so that he could recognize tat among all the living creatures there was not one that was suitable to step to his side as the missing helpmate, as is proved by the concluding words of the next verse: וּלְאָדָ֕ם לֹֽא־מָצָ֥א עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ. Testing the creatures for this purpose is called לִרְא֖וֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא־ל֑וֹ. So we may translate these words: to see how he would call it for himself, or how he would name it, or what he would appoint it to be for himself.

Thus in order for creation to be complete Man had to step up and take his place during the creation in order to establish his place in the world. Indeed that is why the test of the forbidden fruit also had to be given while creation was continuing so that the result of the test would establish itself as part of creation.

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Haamek Davar (to verses 18–20) explains that the naming itself led to Adam's realization that he was partnerless:

The nature of the human species is not uniform: all the character traits and all the species are included in him. One man's nature may tend one way, and another's the opposite way. So the helpmeet should be made so as to be fit for whatever sort of man. That's the meaning of k'negdo [a help "opposite him"]: whatever help he always needs, according to his makeup.…

That which Adam understood about the living spirit of a creature, i.e. its spiritual force, [became] the name of the creature, even when it didn't use that power. Because all is dependent on the stored power: it was made for that purpose when needed.…

By that which he assigned names, Adam realized that it was hard to find himself a helpmeet. The explanation is: Adam did not at first realize about himself that he had all the types of character traits. After all, he never angered, so how would he know he has anger? and likewise for pity and so on. But when he considered all the creatures and understood their natures, he understood about himself that he has all the character traits that are included in all the creatures. For otherwise he would not be able to understand their powers, for someone who cannot anger cannot understand anger or believe such a thing exists. And once he understood that, he understood also that he needs a helpmeet k'negdo, as we explained.…

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Adding somehow to what @sabbahillel stated in his answer, I would add this for OP's first point:

God is in relation to His people (and I think that's true about Adam). Deuteronomy 8:5 says:

Bear in mind that the LORD your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son.

I think in the same way in which children of Israel were brought to conquer Canaan, in the same way Adam had to get his position of ruler over the living things. And in this process, God didn't use Adam as a tool without will (as he didn't use children of Israel as a tool without will), but let Adam decide to obey Him or not (as He let the children of Israel to decide if to obey Him or not).

N.B. Although we can say that God uses His children or the enemies to fulfill His plans, He doesn't use them as a tool is used. He uses someone only according to his will.

3 comments

@Dani, how do you put this kind of links into a posting? :) ‭artaxerxe‭ 14 days ago

It uses the sefaria linker software which recognizes sources the website has, and makes them a link automatically. ‭Dani‭ 14 days ago

thank you @Dani. ‭artaxerxe‭ 14 days ago

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