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Names make a difference. A name can’t be touched or felt, but when someone calls us by our name, we turn. The job of naming the creation fell to Adam, the first man. He zeroed in on every creation and determined what it should be called. But, we see in our parsha (Breishit) that he left out one important category of creation (and of our diet); fish. While everything on land, such as the bovines, the canines, the felines, the ursines, etc, received a name, the denizens of the watery deep remained anonymous and unnamed. Two explanations are offered for this curious omission. One – (a Midrash) suggests that perhaps Adam really did identify and name the fish world, but the Torah didn’t find it necessary to record it. Two – the Radak says that Adam only named the creations that came before him, and the fish could not come before him since by leaving their natural habitat they would die.

The two explanations parallel the purposes of names. There are those who say that names are for man; since he is commanded to steward and control the creation, he needs to apply a name to every creature in order to control and manipulate it. Then, there are those who say that names are for the benefit of the creation, because the name brings out the essence and nature of the creature. If the significance of names lies in their utility for man, then fish did not receive a name because they are not so subject to domination and stewardship as is the rest of creation, since as soon as they are removed from their source, they die. (Even though the commandment to “subdue” the environment specifically mentions fish, nevertheless, it is clear that the commandment finds more application with creatures of the land, such as oxen, chickens, etc than of the sea). And according to the opinion that names are for the benefit of the creation itself, the fish did receive a name, but it wasn’t transmitted or mentioned by the Torah.

It would seem that Rashi was of the second opinion, that names are for the benefit of the creation. On the verse, “And all that man will call the living creatures will be its name,” (Gen. 2:19), Rashi says, Ӆevery living creature that will be named by man will be so named forever.” Why does Rashi add the word “forever”? He could have said simply that Adam named every creature according to its nature and qualities, or as the Chizkuni said, “he applied the name that was appropriate, in agreement with his own observations and the opinion of the Creator.” Apparently Rashi felt that the name does more than describe the creature – it draws out and emphasizes the essential qualities of every creature, and that’s why he added the word ‘forever.’ By applying the name, Adam drew out and emphasized the essential qualities of every creature, which then became its nature forever. Thus, it seems that Rashi’s opinion is that the purpose of a name is for the benefit of the creation, rather than of man.

Even without Rashi’s commentary, it seems that the Torah gives names to the creation for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of man. The section regarding name-giving starts, “And G-d formed all the animals of the field from the earth, and all the fowl of the heavens, and brought them to man to see what he would call them, and all that he called the living creatures will be its name” (Gen 2:19, as above). The Torah related the story of creation in the beginning of Genesis, so we already know that animals and fowl were created during the six days of creation. So, why does the Torah add the words “And G-d formedŔ? It must be that by applying names to the creation, Adam added a new and final dimension to the creation. Something about the name of a creature has an effect on its body, and this is why the verse beginss, “And G-d formedŔ This also makes sense in context; since the Torah section on names follows the story of creation of woman, there must be an internal connection between them. The creation of woman was the culmination and finale of creation in general (and of man), and so it is logical that the calling of names by Adam would be the final step in the saga of creation of animals and creatures.

We may conclude then that according to all opinions, the purpose of names is for the benefit of creation. However, this can be understood in two different ways, corresponding to two aspects of creation: A) Every creation exists independently, such that the presence of G-d is not recognized in the creation, and B) The goal is that man should reveal G-dliness by nullifying the creation to G-d. Indeed, as soon as Adam was created on the sixth day, he demanded of all creatures to accept upon themselves G-d’s reign and authority, by proclaiming ‘Come, bow, prostrate and bless before G-d Who made us.” Consequently, there are two ways to look at the names that Adam applied to creation. The names may be a continuation and culmination of G-d’s creation, having an added effect upon the body of the creature. Or, they may be a part of the efforts and goals of man himself in revealing G-dliness in the creation.

The creation story in the beginning of Genesis (the six days of creation) included only general categories and divisions. We don’t find, for example, that the ten utterances of creation included the names of all the individual creations and beings. We are only told that on the third day, for example, vegetation was created, and on the fifth day the creatures of the water were created and on the sixth, animals and crawling creatures and all the animals of the earth. We don’t know any particular names of creatures, such as oxen, donkeys, and the like. That was the purpose of calling the creation by names. It was the influence of Adam’s “name-calling” that caused every creation to become recognized for what it was; an independent entity in its own right. This understanding of Adam’s calling the creation by names corresponds to the effect that it had upon creation. The effect of Adam’s calling every creature by its name was to bring it into revelation as a particular creation, a detail from among the general categories listed during the six days of creation.

However, we can explain this deeper by saying that the “name-calling” was part of the task and purpose of Adam upon the creation – making the creation a vessel and receptacle for G-dliness. In Tanya (Sha’ar Hayichud vehaEmuna, ch. 1), it is explained that even though the names of individual creations are not found among the words and letters of the ten initial utterances, it was by combination, permutation and substitution of those letters that the individual names became revealed. If so, the names of individual creations were present in the ten utterances, though hidden. It was by Adam’s name calling that the names of individual creations became revealed. By calling the individual creatures by their appropriate names in the holy tongue of Hebrew, Adam revealed their hidden spiritual source. The name of each creature enlivens and vitalizes it, from nothing into something. By revealing their names, Adam revealed the spiritual source of every creation and attached it to its spiritual source, nullifying the entire creation to the One above.

Taking this explanation one step further, we know that the G-dly energy that comes down to enliven every creature is contracted and constricted, in a form that is appropriate for our physical world that hides and conceals G-dliness. However, by calling every creature by its rightful name, according to its spiritual root, Adam caused it to be connected to its G-dly source even above the ten utterances of creation. The sages said that G-d could have created with one utterance, but he did so with ten. This He did in order to create with a lower form of energy with less revealed G-dliness, in order to leave us with free choice and make us culpable for punishment and eligible for reward. But, by revealing the names of all creatures, Adam gave us the ability to connect with our spiritual roots above the ten utterances, even to the level on which G-d could have created – with one utterance.

Now, we can understand the two opinions whether Adam revealed the names of all creatures, including fish, or only creatures of the land. According to the explanation that calling the creatures by name was meant to finalize and perfect the process of creation (by drawing and actualizing the creature’s individual nature from potential to reality), it wasn’t necessary to call the fish by name. Only the land creatures received names, since they were created with a separate, independent existence. Fish are not created independent of their environment; they are so much part of the water that the moment they are removed, they are unable to survive. Therefore, they don’t need names, which indicate independence, since they blend in as an intrinsic part of the sea. It is only land animals that need names, since their existence is independent of the environment (of course, animals need certain ecosystems in order to survive, but within their ecosystems they are capable of independent existence).

But, according to the deeper opinion that calling the names of the creatures attached them to their spiritual sources and nullified them to G-d, not only land animals but all creations, including fish, need names. If the purpose of a name is to reveal the spiritual source of creation, then it is necessary for every creation to have a name so that it can strive for its source and become one with the Creator.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz’l, vol. 35, pp. 1-6 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem