Friday, October 20, 2006

Let Us Make Man (BeReishit 5767)

In a Sedrah that covers far more time than the whole of the rest of the Torah, it is not hard to find something of interest to share for this Shabbat. When creating Man, God said:

Let us make man in our form and like our image and he will rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth and all the creatures which creep upon the earth. And God created the man in his image - in the image of God He created him; male and female He made them. (BeReishit 1:26-27)

Of course, God doesn’t have a ‘form’ in the way that human beings do; one of the Rambam’s axioms of Judaism is that God is utterly devoid of any properties of physicality. It clearly means that Man is capable of emulating God in some aspects of his experience. We are capable of ‘imitation dei’ – being like God.

The plural usage in the phrase ‘let us make man in our form and like our image’; has perplexed thinkers in all eras. Dualists have even used it as a ‘proof’ for their view of the world – after all, doesn’t this verse indicate that there is more than one Divine force? The Midrashic literature is well aware of the dangers inherent in the text.

Rebbi Shmuel bar Nachman said in the name of Rebbi Yonatan, ‘when Moshe wrote down the Torah, he wrote the occurrences of each day (of Genesis). When he reached the verse which says: God said let us make man, he said before Him: Master of the world, why are You giving an opportunity for the heretics to speak? I am astonished. He replied to him: write and let one who wants to err, err....’ (BeReishit Rabbah 8:8)

What idea was so important that conveying it justified risking perversion of the Torah’s text? There are, predictably, numerous answers to this question. With whom did God consult? Here are some, but there are many others. First, a view from Chazal:

And God said let us make man. With whom did He consult? Rebbi Yehoshua said in the name of Rebbi Levi: He consulted with the work of heaven and earth.... (BeReishit Rabbah 8:3)

In this view, all of creation is harnessed to the creation of Man. When God ‘consults’, he is indicating that Man is the pinnacle and purpose of His creation. Here are two quite different views from classic commentators:

The correct explanation for the word ‘let us make’ is for it has already been proven that God only created ex nihilo on the first day, but after that, He formed and made from the elements which were already created. When he put into the water the ability to make it swarm with living creeping things, this was the statement, ‘let the waters swarm. The statement for the animals is, ‘let the earth bring forth.’ It says about man, ‘let us make,’ that is to say that I and the aforementioned earth shall make man, that the earth should bring forth the body from its elements, just as it did with the animals and beasts, as it says, ‘God formed man , dust from the earth.’ But God put in the spirit directly from on high, as it says, ‘and the breathed into his nostrils the living soul.’ (Ramban ad loc)

The Ramban adapts the above Midrash to demonstrate the uniqueness of Man’s creation.

Since the attributes of God’s mercy are thirteen and the name of God, ‘Elokim’, which is strict justice, agreed together to create man and they together said, ‘in our form and like our image’, perhaps what is intended is that he has in him both aspects of mercy and strict justice to result in ways of justice and ways of strict justice, as was intended. This is the deep meaning behind the verse, ‘and Lord God formed...’ (Ohr HaChayim ad loc)

The more esoteric picture offered here sees Man invested with a complex mixture of Divine forces.

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