In Time for Yom Kippur: A Refreshing Perspective on Repentance
man blowing shofar

‘Man’ in Hebrew is ‘Adam,’ which also translates as ‘ dirt.’ Is that our essence? Or is there more to it?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

We talk about the High Holy Days as a time for “repentance.” Repentance is often perceived as a scary word. Many people ponder: how do we repent? Allow me to share a refreshing perspective on this question.

We are told that Adam named all the animals. The names he gave were explicitly chosen to convey their essence. Although it is way beyond the scope of this article, the Hebrew name for each and every animal is deeper than it appears and indeed represents a feature or characteristic of the animal. Even mankind was called “Adam” because it conveys our essence. “Adam” means “earth,” “dirt” or “the ground,” referring to where we all originate.

But is the essence of Man dirt? Could God not have come up with a more flattering word to describe mankind?

It is explained that, yes, earth/dirt does indeed convey the essence of man, and by extension, it is what sets us apart from animals. This is because the earth has the ability to transform things and improve on them. For example, it is the earth that allows seeds to produce trees and provide fruit.

So, too, does a human being. We grow, we change, we produce, we contribute, we assist. A human being can become greater and greater every single day. But animals are just animals. They don’t develop, produce, contribute, mature, invent, and the like.

Based on this perspective, we see that dirt represents unlimited potential. And this is what every human being is – a walking, breathing, living mass of enormous potential.

Perhaps this Yom Kippur we should focus on repentance by concentrating on our potential. Remember that we are compared to the earth. It may not sound flattering, but, as we have seen, it is a tremendous blessing. We must make sure that we live up to the goals and aspirations that make the label “dirt” a blessing.

Remember that you are full of potential, and regardless of where you were yesterday, you can become greater tomorrow. Believing in ourselves, in our potential, is the first step toward repentance and coming closer to God.

United with Israel