In The Image Of Hashem? by Shlomo Tanenbaum


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 Hashem.”

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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