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Man, the crown of creation, is introduced as Adam. The term adam, explains Rav Hirsch, is not derived from the word adamah, earth. It is not man’s earthliness that defines him. In fact, this is the characteristic which he shares with the rest of creation. The uniqueness of man is that he is not created entirely from earth. The breath of G‑d, breathed into his earthly frame, is what makes him man.

Instead, the name adam can be understood in its relation to the word adom, red. Red light is the least refracted of all light. This captures the essence of man: He is the closest manifestation of the Divine; the least “refracted” of G-d’s creations. Adam is also related to hadom, footstool, and chatam, seal. Man is both the ‘footstool’ of G-d’s presence in the world and the seal through which the world can recognize G-d as Creator. His humanity is defined by his ability to freely choose morality, by his likeness to G-d. He is domeh — similarto G-d. A-dam indicates the individualized purpose of man, as if to say, I will resemble [G-d].

The very first command given to newly created adam was that of procreation: P’ru u’rvu, translated as “be fruitful and multiply.” But these two words seemingly imply the same concept: fruitfulness implies numerosity. What does r’vu (multiply) add?

According to Rav Hirsch the instructions p’ru and r’vu are separate and distinct. P’ru refers to marriage: the union for production of human fruit. But the mere perpetuation of humanity is only the beginning. This human fruit must also be worthy of the name adam. After a child is formed, the parents are instructed: R’vu! Multiply! Even in the case of many species of animals, increase in the breed is dependent on care of the young; in the case of humans, such physical care is absolutely critical. Our young, by design, cannot survive without physical care. It is not the birth, but the care of human offspring which is the true cause of increase.

But the word r’vu connotes much more than physical sustenance and care. The linguistic root, r.v.h, implies instruction. For example, the Torah refers to Yishmael as roveh keshet — a shooting instructor. The words Rabbi, Rebbe, Rav — teacher — also derive from this sense. The main task of a parent — r’vu — is to instruct. For reproduction includes producing fruit that resembles the tree. It is not sufficient to physically care for our young. Instead we are instructed to also form and educate them spiritually and morally. Only then to do children recur in the image of their parent and fulfill the mitzvah r’vu.

Another semantic cousin of this root r.v.h. — r.f.h. — reveals insights into the process of spiritual and moral education of the young. Rafeh means weak or loose. Rav Hirsch understands this ‘weakness’ to be self-limitation. Education in general, and in the family in particular, always entails devotion to others through self-limitation. Parenthood forces the parent out of self-centeredness —his ego becomes rafeh, weak. The greater this devotion, the greater — the more rabah — is the blessing.

The two commands form a single whole: p’ru attains its high moral import only when accompanied by r’vu. Only with selfless and loving guidance may we reproduce true human beings.

  • Sources: Ber. 1:26-28

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