Stuart Fickler, Ph.D. 

Chapter 4 –And God Said

Gen 2.7.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.

Genesis 2:19. And the Lord God formed from the earth every beast of the field and every fowl of the heavens, and He brought [it] to man to see what he would call it, and whatever the man called each living thing, that was its name.


According to Targum Onkelos (Gen. 2:7) God’s breath became a “speaking spirit” in Adam. In his commentary on Gen. 2.7, Rashi relates intelligence with speech: “a living soul: Cattle and beasts were also called living souls, but this one of man is the most alive of them all, because he was additionally given intelligence and speech.”

Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 2:19 includes the following: “He brought them to man to name them (Avot d’Rabbi Nathan, ch. 1). And in the words of the Aggadah [Gen. Rabbah 17:4], this יְצִירהhas the meaning of domination and conquest, like (Deut. 20:19):“When you besiege (תָצוּר) a city,” meaning that He subjugated them under man’s dominion.”

In Genesis 1:3-27, each act of creation was preceded with "And God said”. This attests to the enormous power given to speech. It is speech that brings an idea into being. Among ancients, to know someone’s name was to have power over them. That is why the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt had secret names. It is also why some will change the name of a desperately sick person. Thus, Rashi states that, by giving humans speech and the ability to name the animals, God provided humans with the first necessary tools of dominion. (Rashi, Gen. 2:19 And in the words of the Aggadah [Gen. Rabbah 17:4], this has the meaning of domination and conquest…”)

Let’s examine these ideas in modern terms. Speech is the driving force for politics, the economy, education, religion, science and the most intimate of human relationships. Leaders move nations to conquest with oratory. What would our consumer economy be like without advertising? Teachers educate students with oral and written speech. The religious pray and teach their canon with speech. Science uses speech to uncover the mysteries of the universe. Lovers find each other with speech; and parents raise their children with speech. Clearly, speech is the dominant and dominating feature of human existence.

The text implies that by receiving God’s breath, humanity (Adam) acquired something of the nature of God. The commentators related this to the power of speech. Thus, in the world of humankind, speech has the capacity to embody the God-like characteristics of intelligence, governance and creativity. But, is speech enough? Does the capacity to speak respond to the injunction; “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.”? Of course not! We need only look at the world in which we live. The God-given gift of speech is just a necessary first step in the journey toward holiness. Without speech we would not have the Torah. And, Torah is the map that we need for that journey.

There is another profoundly important feature of speech. Speech leads to the capability to ask questions. This ability separates humans from all other creatures. Humans are uniquely “questioning animals”. It is this ability that leads to science, art, philosophy and theology. Questions provide a driving force for civilization and all of its achievements.

This is the point at which science and Judaism come together. Science is driven by an unending stream of questions. These are questions concerning natural processes. You might say that your cell phone is made up of a multitude of questions. In Judaism, the Talmud and all of the commentaries, right up to this moment, are the result of an unending stream of questions that have their origin in the Torah. These are questions concerning human values, purpose, behavior and relationships. When brought together, Judaism and science take us on a dynamic quest for “the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence.” (Maimonides)

I will assert here that, in the current context, questioning is a demonstration of faith. For support for my assertion, I turn to the book of Job. Job launched a barrage of questions at God. In the midst of the barrage, Job declared “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him” (13: 15). This is the greatest declaration of faith that I have ever seen. In the end, Job was vindicated by God.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “The Choice”.

Emet v’chaim.