Why do we call out to G-d, and what does it mean that we do? This week we read about how in the generation following Seth, "the calling out in Hashem's name began." There are three different explanations for this enigmatic phrase. Each one reveals something very different about human nature and the character of our spiritual urges.
Rashi explains that the people began to call each other by the name of G-d in an act of idolatry. While he condemns this activity, it comes from a positive place. The people of that time encountered the divine within themselves and wanted to express it. While the method they chose had more shortfalls than merits, it nevertheless exhibited a salutary urge to find a better way to describe the divine image inherent within our humanity. Just that recognition is profound spiritual knowledge that ultimately gave birth to what we now think of as universal human rights extending from our shared and inviolable human dignity. Indeed there is something here of which to be deeply proud.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra offers a second understanding that humanity began to pray at that time. Adam, Eve, and their progeny understood their profound reliance on G-d, for how could they not? However, they did not give that fundamental dependence and existential angst clear verbal expression. That had to wait for the generation of Adam's grandchildren. At that time, people learned to express their innate spiritual yearning. Today, we owe those pioneers a debt of gratitude. It is through their innovation that we can connect to the divine.
However, perhaps we might offer a third explanation. It might be that at that point, people began mentioning G-d in their children's names, a practice that continues to this day and is a critical way of blending our identity with our spiritual quest to be close to G-d. By assigning G-d's name a place in our own most basic symbol of identity, our names, we emphasise the centrality of that connection for us. This is what the Torah is about.
These three understandings, while textually contradictory, are strongly philosophically aligned. Our spirituality depends on all three aspects:
Finding the divine spark within us
Engraving our relationship with G-d in the deepest recesses of our character and identity
If we do all three, we are guaranteed a year of remarkable spiritual growth, and we will look back at the end and marvel at what we have achieved.