The Birds, the Beasts and Me

Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared years before Mark Zuckerberg elevated the importance of acquiring friends on Facebook.  Yet, most healthy people realize that collecting “friends” only to further your own interests or in a fake world has nothing in common with establishing authentic relationships.

Let’s see if we can get an insight into real relationships through an unexpected Biblical connection:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field
every bird of the air and brought them to Adam
to see what he would call them…
(Genesis 2:19)

God brought Adam two categories of creatures (i) every beast of the field; (ii) every bird of the air.

Next verse:

And Adam called names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air,
and to
every beast of the field
(Genesis 2:20)

Surprisingly, Adam named three categories (i) cattle, (ii) the birds of the air (iii) the beasts of the field.

We have a problem:  Not only does Adam reverse the order of birds and beasts, but he names an entirely new category—cattle.

As is so often true, the answers lie in the Lord’s language—Hebrew.

Here are the opening three words from Genesis 2:20.  I know you may not read Hebrew (yet) but gaze upon these words as graphic elements. (The middle word is Adam.)

ויקרא האדם שמות
And Adam called names

Now view the Hebrew names for the books of Exodus and Leviticus:

ויקרא           שמות
Exodus                  Leviticus

Do you see the similarities?  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the answers to the mysteries of Genesis 2:20 can be found in the transition from Exodus to Leviticus.

The very end of Exodus describes how God cements his relationship with Israel by providing them with ever-present visible protection throughout all their journeys via Heavenly clouds and a pillar of fire. In response, Leviticus opens with Israel strengthening its relationship with God by bringing Him offerings. The Hebrew word used for offering or sacrifice is Korban which actually means ‘getting close’.

In other words, close and authentic relationships are brought about by giving to the other. Find ways to do favors for friends. (If you mistakenly think sacrifice has a negative connotation—as in, “Look how much I sacrificed for you,”—there is an entire chapter on the word Korban and the practical life applications of it in our book Buried Treasure.)

Giving a name is an intimate act of closeness.  When we address people by name, we initiate connection and acknowledge their individuality. Parents name newborns; lovers give one another pet names.  In naming the creatures, Adam is establishing a relationship between man and animals. Thus, he distinguishes between them, ordering them by degrees of closeness to humans. He first introduces a new category— cattle.  Cattle include those animals that work together with humans to the benefit of both.  Adam places birds next because birds bring music and color to our homes and gardens. Finally, he names beasts, those animals that avoid human habitation and with whom we have least relationship.

“Friending” people on Facebook is easy. Real relationships demands a ‘give and take’ relationship. We discover ways to do things of value for others  and are simultaneously willing to accept what they give to us.

6 thoughts on “The Birds, the Beasts and Me”

  1. You are always informative and interesting.

    The only other place we see these two words so juxtaposed is in Genesis 26:18, “And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names [וַיִּקְרָא לָהֶן שֵׁמוֹת] after the names by which his father had called them.”

    There’s a story here too–in fact I think I recall reading about it.

  2. It’s interesting to learn about the relationships between man and others. Why weren’t the fish of the sea included? Didn’t Adam name them also? Is there not a very close relationship between man and fish?

    Hopefully I’m not changing subjects but when G-d caused the rain to flood on earth, nothing is mentioned about destroying the fish.

    Why is there a difference? How are fish linked to G-d?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re exactly right, Teena–
      Fish were not destroyed in the Flood and hence we do have a different relationship with them. Other creatures owe their existence to the actions of man (Noah) whereas fish just continued existing as they had.
      Unlike most land or air creatures, fish are more complicit in their being caught. For this reason they serve a metaphorical purpose as well reminding us that were it not for our ‘grabbing the hook’ we wouldn’t be “caught” either.

  3. I enjoy your Thought Tools and eventually where you lead the readers. Concerning “korban”, is tithing also included in drawing own close like an offering?

    Or, is tithing more of an acknowledgement of honor and position (thinking back to Abram and Melchizedek) and who G-d is and who I am? I see where it brings our hearts closer in humility to the Almighty.

    Thank you,


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Scott–
      Tithing is certainly a form of korban–a ‘make-close-to-God’ device.

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