“So God created man in His image” Genesis 1:27

By Rabbi Daniel Beller, October 11, 2012

When man takes to the stage in the first chapter of Bereshit, he is described as being created in the image of God. Owing to traditional Judaism’s rejection by and large of the notion of a corporeal God, commentators are at variance as to what this phrase could possibly mean.

According to Maimonides, it is a reference to intellect and man’s ability to comprehend the world. For Ovadia Sforno, on the other hand is sure that it is the gift of choice bestowed on mankind. The medieval Italian scholar Shabatai Donolo provides the original explanation of man mirroring God’s creative qualities. God engaged in the creation of the world, while man builds and plants on a much smaller scale. Constructive and creative activity in this world has an element of the divine.

In addition to being created in God’s image, man was created alone. The sages in the Mishnah saw this as an indication of the ultimate and inherent value of each human being (Sanhedrin 4:5). In pagan society this was a radical idea.

Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, the 20th-century American Talmudist., expanded on this idea, claiming that each of us comes into the world at a particular time and place because we are completely unique. No one else can do what we have been entrusted with. The world would be a completely different place had we never lived.

If ever a generation needed to be reminded of man being created in the image of God, it is ours, which has witnessed armed conflict and genocide. During the first half of the 20th century, Nicholas Berdayev, a witness to the inhumanity of communism, wrote that denying the image of God in a person ultimately leads to the corrosion of our humanity and the ascendancy of our bestial tendencies.

Last updated: 1:58pm, October 11 2012