Midreshet Amit


Back to Main Page

Does Man Have a Name?

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

The name for man- "Ha'Adam" is first introduced in the story of creation: And God said, "Let us make man (na'aseh ha'adam) in our image, after our likeness," But where does the word "Ha'adam" come from? What is its significance and how does it affect our own sense of self as humans?

Common knowledge is that the name Adam is derived from the word Adama, or earth. This is strongly indicated by the verse found in the second version of man’s creation: “And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul(Bereishit 2:7)." In light of this verse, we are inclined to go back to the first verse and render it: "Let us make a man form from dust from the ground.” Here, the origin of man is stated from the outset—dust from the ground. It is this origin that Adam is painfully reminded of when he is punished for eating from the Eitz HaDa’at: “With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return(3:19).”

The Netziv offers an different interpretation on the name Adam. The Netziv points out that the Torah never actually makes the connection between the name Adam and Adama. Rather, says the Netziv, the name Adam is derived from the word “Domeh”, which means “similar.” He cites a verse in Yeshayahu. “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will liken (Ehdameh агод ) myself to the Most High (14:14). If this is the case, the original verse is to be read not a “let us make a thing called man (i.e., a form from the dust which is called man)”, but rather “Let us make something similar to us.” Adam is neither title nor description. It is simply an essence—the image of Hashem. Thus, the verse in its entirety is one theme: Let us make something in our image.

The Netziv elaborated on this idea by means of an example. Let us imagine a king with noble qualities and refined traits. This king has two sons; both are princes. Once prince may not look like his father, act like his father, or have the traits or nobility of his father. How do we know he is a prince? Because he has that title—he is called a prince. The other son, by contrast, looks like his father, acts like his father, has the same noble mannerisms and regal bearing. This son does not need the title to identify himself as royal—anyone who knows the king will determine that fact.

This is true of humankind. There are two types of people. Some of us are lumps of dust—Adam from Adama. We are the image of Hashem, but the resemblance may not be so apparent. But there are some of us who do not need a name to identify ourselves as beings made in the image of Hashem. Rather, our likeness to Him is simply apparent.

As 5776 begins, may we focus our efforts in fashioning ourselves in His image, in a matter that apparent to all.