In The Image Of Hashem? by Shlomo Tanenbaum

(2004/5764) In this weeks Parsha, Perek Alef Pasuk Chaf-Vav,
the Torah says, Vayomer Elokim Naaseh Adam
Betzalmenu Kidmutenu Veyirdu Vidgot Hayam Uveof
Hashamayim Uvibehema Uvechol Haaretz, “And Hashem
said, “Let us make man in our image, resembling our
likeness, and it will rule over the all the fish in the sea and
the birds in the sky and the animals, and the whole earth.”
Many Mefarshim have different explanations of what “in
our image, in our likeness” means. After all, how can we
have the same image as Hakodesh Baruch Hu? Moreover,
why does the verse say in plural, “let us make man;” it
should have said “I will make man.”
Rashi explains that Betzalmenu, “in our image,”
means “with our mold.” He then explains Kidmutanu as
the ability “to understand and to gain wisdom.” Our
abilities to think, to ponder questions, to make decisions,
to add knowledge to previous knowledge, and to gain
understanding are all gifts from Hakadosh Baruch Hu that
separate us from the rest of creation. Have we ever
stopped and thanked Hakadosh Baruch Hu for the
wonderful ability to think, to just formulate ideas in our
heads without any action at all? This is something to be
thankful for!
The Siftei Chachamim, a sefer written to clarify
Rashi, explains that one can not possibly say that “in our
image” refers to Hashem’s shape or form, because
Hakadosh Baruch Hu has no shape or form. However,
Rashi explains Pasuk Chaf-Zayin which says that
“Betzelem Elokim Bara Oto”, “In the like likeness of His
image He created him” really means, “that mold that is
prepared for him has the semblance of Hashem.” The
Siftei Chachamim resolves the apparent contradiction and
explains the Rashi in Pasuk Chaf-Zayin means that when
the Prophets saw Hashem, the mold of Adam had a
resemblance to what they were shown of Hashem.
The Ramban comments that by no other creature
does it say “Naaseh,” “Let us make.” In creation, Hashem
made the concept of all other creations on day one, and
only later in creation did He create its purpose and its
physical attributes from that foundation. He then gave the
power to the earth and waters to bring forth the creatures,
as it says: “Let the earth bring forth animals (Totzei)…”
and “Let the waters bring forth fish (Toztei)…” However,
by man it says “Let us make” (Naaseh), meaning that the
earth will provide the body, while Hashem will give man his
life-force, his soul. That is why it says “Naaseh,” “make,” in
the plural, because both Hashem and the earth will have a
hand in man’s creation.
This is also the way that the Ba’al Haturim
understands this Pasuk, in which he says that Adam,
“man,” is a contraction of dust, blood, and bile. Ramban

adds that in Hebrew, the root of “Betzelmanu,” “In our
image,” is Tzelem, shape and form, which hints that man
is similar the earth in its physical appearance and
makeup. The root of “Kidmutenu,” “In our likeness,” is
Demut, resemblance, which means that the
everlasting soul, the source of man’s wisdom and
understanding, which does not die or become
extinguished, is similar to the heavens. He
concludes that we are the only creature in creation that
Hakadosh Baruch Hu had a direct hand in making.
Hashem even breathed some of his Shechinah into our
bodies, as in indicated in Perek Bet Pasuk Zayin.
The Meshech Chachmah explains that “In our
likeness” refers to man’s absolute free choice. When man
makes a choice, it is much different than when an
animal makes a choice. Man has different paths to
choose from, like a fork in a road. He is able to
choose either one, and it is not determined by his
nature or instinct. Man is able to totally ignore his
instincts. Moreover, if man sees that his decision was
not beneficial to him, he is able to change his ways and
choose to take the other path in the future. In
addition, man is able to look into the future to see the
consequence of his actions. In contrast, when an
animal has to choose between two paths, it will make its
“decision” based only on its instinct, not on free
choice. When the animal makes that decision, it can
never go back and change its decision; once
something has been decided, it is unalterable.
Lastly, but most importantly, an animal is not able to see
the consequences of its actions; this contrasts man, who
makes his decisions with much thought and
planning. Has anyone ever seen an animal think
about what its next step will be? Of course not,
because instinct forces the animal to behave a
certain way and take a specific course in its next
step. Man does not take a single step unless he has a
reason for it. The concept of free choice is similar to
Hashem because Hashem has total free choice
(which, of course, He uses to do good).
The Chrisha (Chidushei Rav Shlomo
Ashkenazi) explains that the word Betzalmenu
comes from the Hebrew word Tzel, meaning
shadow. One’s shadow is almost an exact replica of
one’s image. How does this relate to Hashem? He
explains we are the physical manifestation of
Hakodesh Baruch Hu’s qualities.
Our physical attributes mimic Hashem’s
spiritual attributes; we are the shadow of Hashem’s
perfect attributes and qualities. Hashem’s spirituality has
physical bearings and parallels in us. For example,
when it says in the Torah that Hashem took us out of
Egypt with a strong arm, we can understand it
because the spiritual equality of a strong arm is
manifested in our arm. Because of these parallels, by
bringing spirituality into this world through our
physical bodies, we are bringing Hashem’s perfect
qualities into this world. The Chrisha then clarifies that
the reason why it says “Naaseh,” “make,” in the plural is that we have to make ourselves into the image
and likeness of Hashem, but this does not come about by
itself. Who are the people involved in man’s creation; who
makes him into an image and likeness of Hashem?
Hakodesh Baruch Hu and man himself. If we do not work
on ourselves, we will never become an “image of

One could fill and entire sefer with explanations of what
“in our image, in our likeness” means. However, there is more to
the explanation of the words than just what they mean and refer
to. The search for an answer is the search for an explanation of
what makes humans so special in creation. Most people do not
realize how tremendously important they really are. We are
incredibly fortunate to have these gifts, and without them, man
would just be another animal in creation, having no goal in life,
living and dying without knowing what is happening around it.
People do not realize how incredible and uplifted man is in
creation. It is a terrible tragedy to waste and destroy these gifts
by ignoring them and not using them for a higher purpose.
Jews, in particular, have great spiritual potential. We
were given a means by which we can uplift our wisdom to
spiritual heights more than any other human via the Torah. The
Midrash says that the world was created only for a place that is
able to use and learn the Torah, and we Jews are the means by
which the Torah is learnt. Think about it: if we are learning Torah
by using all of our special gifts, we are fulfilling the purpose of
creation! This is the reason why if there are no Jews learning
Torah every at any given moment, the world will be destroyed.
Why is this? If the world was only created to learn the Torah,
then when no one is learning, there is no point to creation.
The Sforno comments that our intelligence is different
then all of nature in that it exists without any medium or material
at all. It is separated from matter and is totally metaphysical.
When a person thinks and delves into the future, it is completely
above nature and solidity.
The Sforno asks why in Pasuk Chaf-Zayin the Torah
says “Betzelem Elokim,” “In the image of Elokim.” He answers
that Elokim implies perfection, which was above Adam’s level.
Man’s special gift of thought are only an image of perfection,
because he has not yet perfected his wisdom. If he perfects his
wisdom by using it to attain love and fear of Hashem, the Master
of the universe, then it will be complete and perfect. It will
endure forever, even after his body ceases to function.
However, if we do not attempt to achieve these levels of love and
fear of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, our gift of thought will remain as
unused potential. We will remain as we were before we were
created and endowed with these special gifts, and we will end in
destruction and emptiness, as it says in Tehillim: “Man in his
greatness who does not seek (understanding), is like the beasts
which perish.” Everyone has the potential, but it will all remain
mere potential and not achievement of great spiritual heights if
we ignore our purpose.
How does one attain fear and love of Hashem? The
Gemara says that Torah study brings fear of heaven. The Vilna
Gaon once remarked: “The Torah is oil and the Mitzvah is a
lamp. Without the oil (Torah), the lamp goes out.” The Zekan
Beto says that if people knew how much Hakadosh Baruch Hu
loved them and how much he desired their Avodah to him,
people would run to perform His will. People would never think
of doing something wrong, even something that might only
border on misdeed. Let us hope that we will use our treasured
advantages and gifts productively in our service to Hakadosh
Baruch Hu, and not (Chas Veshalom) waste them, and may
Mashiach come speedily in our days.

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