Let My People Know

"Mankind can best be defined as 'the speaking species' "

Mankind can best be defined as “the speaking species.”

Nature traditionally has been divided into four classes: the inanimate world; the flora, or plant world; the fauna, or an­imal world; and mankind, called “the speaker.”

Man the speaker is a separate class.

The scientific definition of man as Homo sapiens is not the best title for humanity; many an­imals—dolphins, for example—also have high levels of in­telligence, perhaps not too inferior to that of humans.

In addition, man’s attempts at wisdom have not always been successful.

However, the fact that we are speakers is basic, so very primal that it differentiates us from the rest of cre­ation.

The right name for us should be, perhaps, Homo gar­rulus.

This title is not facetious; it defines not only man’s distinction, but also his superiority.

It is not just that we can communicate; everything can communicate.

The birds and the bees, and even plants, can transmit some signals to each other, by voice, by sight, or by scent, but ours is a very different form of com­munication.

As far as we know, animals can only transmit emotions, or status reports.

They can signal statements such as, “Here I am,” “I am about to attack you,” or “I am going to court you”—depending on the situation.

Hu­mans can create words, which are transmittable symbols.

We can create symbols for everything in the world: ob­jects, space, and time, concrete notions and abstract ones, ideas and emotions.

We can talk about almost everything in the world, and give it a name

The Book of Genesis tells us about the creation of Man.

The Midrash, in Genesis Rabbah, a fourth-century homi­letic exegesis on the Bible, says that God consulted the an­gels about the creation of Man, and the angels did not like the idea at all.’

To them, connecting a Divine soul with an earthly body seemed a strange and unlikely combination, bound to fail.

The Midrash then goes on to tell that after Man was created, God showed the new world and all its creatures to the angels, and asked, “Can you give names to all these things around you?”

The angels said they could not.

Then God showed off His new creature, Man, to prove his special qualities; all the animals passed before Adam, and Adam gave names to each one (Genesis 2:19)—includ­ing himself,’ his wife (Genesis 2:23), and the Almighty!

That was the beginning of Man as a distinctive creation, different indeed from all other creatures, superior to ani­mals and even to angels—not merely because he can talk, but because of the ability to create words.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz