Why did Adam choose to call himself “Adam”? Rabbi David Lapin
has a fascinating new essay on this week’s Torah portion, Bereishit
(Genesis 1:1-6:8), that deals with the question. You’ll recall from Genesis 2:19
that God brought all the animals before the first man and asked him what their names should be. Adam derived each name from that animal species’s essential, defining characteristic that set it apart from all the other animals. However, when it came time for Adam to name himself — drumroll, please — he selected “Adam” because it derives from the Hebrew word for earth, Adamah
How did that distinguish him from the other creatures with their no less earthly origins, as the verse clearly says? In no way did the name Adam do so. But it wasn’t from the class of animals that Adam wanted to set himself apart. If that had been his intention, he could have called himself Mind, Intellect, Spirit, Speech — not Earth! Darwinism hadn’t been concocted yet, with its insinuating equation of man with beast, so there was no need to refute it. From whom or what, then, did Adam want to distinguish himself? From the class of angels, to which he really belonged.
Writes Rabbi Lapin:
Adam sees humankind not as an evolved member of the animal species, but as an enhanced member of the angel species. He sees himself as a differentiated angel and it is his earthliness that differentiates him from other angels. His earthy component makes him unique among the angels. He is a spiritual force of Divine energy (like an angel) with an earthly connection and a physical form. Man can think and conceptualize like an angel but he can act like a human. He can grasp ideas that only angels can, but he can also create in ways that angels cannot. To Adam (and to Hashem) man is not a devolved angel but an enhanced one: “Man’s wisdom is greater than yours.”
Unlike angels, humans have an added component, an immense enhancement: Humans have a physical form that enables them to manifest the Divine on earth with their every thought, word and deed. Angels cannot do this. Humans can create ideas and innovate objects that transform lives. Angels cannot. Humans can inspire others, uplift them and teach them. Angels cannot. Coming from the perspective of the species of angel, Adam sees the fact that he, unlike other angels, is formed from earth as his single most important differentiator. He names himself Adam.
I have found adopting Adam’s philosophy to be personally transformational. Facing challenging situations I try to think of myself not as “only human” but as an angel with an earthly link. Angels have a shelichut, a mission. And so do each of us. Nothing can stand in the way of an angel fulfilling his shelichut. As such, hardly anything is beyond my capability if it is aligned with my shelichut.
I thought this was beautiful and so uplifting and ennobling in comparison with the impoverished, secular, Darwinian alternative. In the Darwinian view, it makes no sense to speak of a person having a “mission” on earth, other than to eat, sleep, copulate, reproduce, and thereby spread his “selfish genes.” Why not just shoot yourself instead?
In this evolutionary picture of reality, you’re an animal, nothing more. You are fooling yourself if you behave differently from other beasts, pretending to be something you aren’t. Nowadays, we find many people tragically taking this lie to heart and acting, speaking, writing, and thinking on that basis. They are the fallen angels, I guess you could say. Pity on them.