Creation of Man


"In God's Image"

by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

"And the Lord said: Let us make Mankind in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So the Lord created Mankind in His own image, int the image of the Lord He created Him, male and female." (Genesis 1, 25-26).

"This is the book of the generations of Adam [Mankind], on the day the Lord created Mankind, in the likeness of the Lord He made him." (Genesis 5, 1).

"Whoso sheds man's blood by a man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of the Lord made he man." (Genesis 9, 6).

Remarkably difficult verses!

If Judaism professes that God at Mt. Sinai admonished His people not to make any idol or depiction of Him - indeed, to not even form images of the sun and the moon (Exodus [Shemos] 20, 3), how then does this religion understand the statement that the human race bears resemblance to the Almighty?

We would do well to pose another question: The Torah makes use of several names to identify the Creator, the loftiest of which is the Tetragammaton (the four letter name consisting of the Hebrew letters Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh, known also as the "Shem Havayah," "The Name of Existence"). The narrative in the first chapter of Genesis, instead of using the more direct form of the Tetragammaton, uses the term Elokim. This term, in its connotation of "lordship," is often used to identify humans who possess authority, such as judges (as in Exodus 21, 6). It is frequently used to identify other, pagan gods. The Shem Havayah, on the other hand, is exclusively associated with the God of Judaism, Creator of Heavens and Earth. Why would the Torah choose to use the less specific Elokim over the more specific, more obvious choice, of Shem Havayah?

The answer lies in the meaning of the term Elokim. It is derived from the word "el," that means "strength," or "force." An Elokim is a "Master of Forces." Any individual or deity that possesses authority is a "Master (or Mistress) of Forces." When God is identified as Elokim, we are really describing Him as the ultimate "Master of Forces."

The identification of God as the ultimate Master of Forces is one of the most fundamental realizations stressed by Jewish thought. On the holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur), in the final and holiest prayer of the day (Ne'ila), the statement: "God is the Elokim" is repeated seven times. Judaism stresses this point in order to counteract human nature. It is a natural human tendency to ascribe mastery to immediate causes: financial security to one's employer; health to one's fitness or medical care; safety to one's protective resources, etc. We are taught, by repeating "God is the Elokim" seven times, corresponding to the days of the week, symbolic of the cumulative forces of the world, that all these causes are ultimately in the hands of God.

God endowed humans with certain natural drives, among them the aspiration towards mastery: "They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (Genesis 1, 26). The serpent was not in error when he encouraged Eve [Chava] to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to: "be like the Lord" (Genesis 2, 5). It was the path which he proposed that Eve and Adam follow, in order to achieve that goal, that was wrong.

God did not intend humans to master only the material world. He endowed humans with the capacity to master the Heavens, to manipulate the angels and the spiritual forces that angels represent. (It is for that reason that God turned to the angels and said "Let us make Man." He was really requesting them to contribute of their essence to Man, so as to "hard-wire" humanity with compatibility with the angels, ultimately affording us the capability to master and sway these spiritual forces.) The good deeds of Man enhances the positive forces of the spiritual realm, and these forces, in turn, exert a beneficial influence on the material world. Man's evil deeds diminish the spiritual realm, and, in turn, the material world is afflicted.

God's mastery of forces is thus reflected in the mastery He granted humanity. The term "image" expresses that thought. The Hebrew word for "image" in all these verses is "tzelem." The word tzelem is derived from the word "tzel," that means "shadow" or "reflection." Man is intended to be a lord, an Elokim, over the forces of Creation, a reflection of God's Lordship. The other word that the Torah utilizes here, "likeness," reflects this idea as well. The Hebrew word for "likeness" in all these verses is "demus." The word demus is derived from the word "domeh," that means "similar." Human beings are certainly not duplicates of a God that has no body nor form. They are similar in their mastery - of the spiritual and physical dimensions of Creation.

Thus, when the Ten Commandments express the prohibition against idols and depictions, they do not utilize the words tzelem and demus. These words connote reflection and similarity, concepts completely irrelevant to the prohibition. Rather, the words used are "pesel," "idol,"from the Hebrew for sculpture; and, "temunah," "depiction," from the Hebrew for counting,or precise assessment. These terms accurately convey the prohibition to physically and materially define and represent God.

We may now understand why the first chapter of Genesis does not make use of the Shem Havayah. That name describes the One whose existence is transcendent and eternal, and He who is the source and sustainer of all other forms of existence. These are traits that are beyond the capacity of Man to fully comprehend, much less emulate and manifest! In describing the creation of humanity and its role of a mastery that reflects God, there is only one name that is appropriate: Elokim.

Rabbi Bechhofer is the Rabbi of Cong. Bais Tefila in Chicago, IL, and Rosh Kollel (Director) of the Frumi Noble Night Kollel (Institute for Adult Education) at Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Il (Skokie Yeshiva).

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