What does it mean to be made in God’s image?
Table for Five: Bereshit
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God – creating them male and female.
Bracha Goetz, Author of 41 Jewish Children’s Books
How can a Cosmic Oneness create a relationship with another – if the Oneness is really all there is?
Here’s a way! Create the illusion of retracting the Infinite Oneness! Make it look like there’s a space between the Cosmic Oneness and us – even if there really isn’t any. We people were created in a distinctly unique way. Unlike the AI-type robotic angels created and unlike all the materials and beings made from the earth’s dust, God’s own breath – a way higher level of soul – resides in us. The covering of our bodies, made from the same substance as the dust of the earth, creates the illusion that we are separated from God, but the Infinite Oneness breathed into us a Divine soul – unlike any other – with the free will to choose and create, resembling God.
This happened so that we can have a relationship of ultimate pleasure with the Cosmic Oneness. What can we give back in order to thoroughly enjoy this relationship? Gratitude lifts the veil of illusion so we can more fully appreciate this awesome connection. The first human was originally created as a double-faced being, with a male and female joined at the back. Through “a divine surgical process” we read in the second chapter of Genesis, the female is later separated from Adam and formed into a woman. After this separation, an everlasting yearning remains for male and female to reconnect face-to-face – in a loving relationship, enjoyed with deep gratitude.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman, International Speaker, Bestselling Author, and Business Coach
In perhaps the most inspiring, yet daunting verse in the Torah, we are shown the infinite potential that lies within each and every one of us. Being created in the image of God is more than a reminder of our innate worth; it’s a calling, a mission-statement, a clearly defined goal for our life. Any meaningful journey needs a destination, and in the 27th verse of the Torah, we are given just that — each and every one of us has the opportunity and responsibility to strive for greatness, for perfection, for godliness.
Will we ever arrive at perfection? No. But the goal of life is not to be perfect; it’s to become perfect, to endlessly raise our standards as we strive for more. We will never arrive at perfection, but we can get a little closer every day. Many people struggle with the journey of growth because they want nothing more than to be at the destination. However, a life of growth is only enjoyable when we learn to embrace the journey itself. When we fall in love with the process of growth — when we look forward to the daily struggle, to the incremental stages of progress, to each tiny step forward — that is where we find true happiness.
So take a moment, pause, and imagine a lifetime devoted towards actualizing the unique godliness that lies dormant within you; such a journey will result in a lifetime of purpose, meaning, and growth, filled with immeasurable happiness and fulfilment!
Rabbi Jonathan Leener, Prospect Heights Shul
After the High Holidays, when we often relate to God in distant terms like “King” or “Lord of Infinity,” this verse emphasizes a closeness and resemblance to God that may seem radically subversive. The tradition’s continual oscillation between God as totally unknowable and as a near replica is tremendous.
While relating to God’s power and omnipotent capabilities, opening ourselves up to seeing ourselves as more godlike can transform our relationships with ourselves and others. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov boldly teaches, “For we are literally portions of the Shekhinah.” In the same vein, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz teaches, “In our profoundest being, the soul of man is a part of the Divine and, in this respect, is a manifestation of God in the world.” If this is true, our creative capacities may be beyond our wildest imaginations.
Most importantly, this divine resemblance should dramatically transform our relationships with our fellow human beings. If we are truly a part of God, what does it mean when we inflict pain on each other? Perhaps the suffering of man is a blot on God’s conscience because it is in our relationships with each other that God is at stake. As we begin the new Torah cycle, we also begin to renew our relationship with God. If God is King, we are not just servants, but shadows of the King.
Rabbi Lori Shapiro, Founder/Open Temple
This pasuk of Bereshit is ponderous in its literary structure: Why the repetition of the words “Ba-rah” (created)? Why would the author of the text repeat this fact in triplet, with the third triplet distinguishing male from female?
According to Plato’s Symposium, humans were created with four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces; and were also cut in half and separated. Curiously, our pasuk might be a repetition of the Symposium, but using poetic Hebrew instead of the visual description: The first two-thirds of this verse is a mirror image of itself, a call-back to Aristophanes. Yet, the final third, “creating them male and female” seems to suggest an important after-thought – the entire statement and its apparent redundancy reveals something beyond the physicality of creation.
Jewish thought is created in distinct contrast to the Hellenists. We are not just humans created in carnality; indeed, we are created in a silhouette of the Creator. The verb, “Barah,” in the third repetition, flips from an act of God to perhaps “Male and female created them,” as in: “First God was the creator; God created them in God’s image; [and then], male and female [in the image of God and Godly acts] created them [meaning, all of us]. This Biblical creation story illuminates an essential distinction between Greeks and Hebrews. For, as Hellenists tried to describe the physical creation and the creative desires of humans, the ancient Hebraic authors describe the creation of humans from God and then illustrate our emulation of this Creator through Creating Ourselves.
Rabbi Rebecca Schatz, Associate Rabbi, Temple Beth Am
You are enough. The body lent me is to use and create a fulfilling life; a more peaceful world; and relationships of love. Ask me what defines my creation, what makes me one of God’s holy works of art.
Often we translate ‘adam’ as ‘man.’ However, a more accurate translation is ‘person.’ “And God created the person (the only human) in God’s image. In God’s fullness, God created that person. Male and female, God created them.” But, who is “them” if we are referencing the first human creation? Radak teaches that God created this human as both male and female, and then separated them apart into two beings. Could it be that the first human was gender-less or fully-gendered? Allowing the person to create for themselves their identity.
Humans are created whole. In any form that they come into the world, and any body, any gender, any person is created in the image of God. Humans are blessed with freedoms to choose how we behave and respond in the world. We are created in partnership with God and with other humans who help in our formation. However, how we are in this world is up to us – we shape our character, we make our decisions, we mold our beliefs and we nourish our souls. Choose to be like that whole first human on earth. Full and complete, and ready to create a life encompassing all one needs to say, “I am enough.”
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