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What does it mean that man was created in "G-d's image"?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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"G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d He created him."1

Before answering this question, let us first understand perfectly what this verse does not mean. One of the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith (See “What are the thirteen Principles of Faith”) is the belief that the Creator is not a physical being. Physical concepts do not apply to Him. Nothing at all resembles Him. Thus, this verse cannot mean that we physically resemble our Creator.

Rashi explains this verse to mean that humans are the only creations which intellectually resemble G-d. This is a G-d-like quality which only humans were granted. Certainly G-d's wisdom is infinitely greater than the greatest human mind. Yet, the very fact that we humans have the ability to think abstract thoughts, sets us aside from the animal kingdom whose intellect is limited to grasping and understanding their immediate needs.

Only the human was given the ability to freely choose
The Seforno2 adds that aside for man's ability to grasp theoretical ideas, he is also endowed with another G-d-like characteristic -- freedom of choice. In this area man is truly unique, for even supernal angels do not possess this quality. Animals act according to their G-d-given nature, and angels follow the orders of their Master without the ability to deviate even a hair's breath from their particular mission. Only the human was given the ability to freely choose.3

According to the teachings of Kabbalah, this verse has a very mystical meaning. In order to create worlds, G-d expresses Himself through ten Sefirot (see What are the ten sefirot and what is their purpose?). Man too, possesses and expresses himself through these same ten character traits. Thus, man is a spiritual mirror image of G-d.4 This allows man to look at himself -- his psychological structure -- and to understand his divine source.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 1:27.
  • 2. Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, 16th century Italian biblical commentator.
  • 3. This ability, however, is restricted to choices between good and evil. All other "decisions" a person makes -- such as who to marry or where to reside -- are predetermined.
  • 4. It is important to note that the essence of G-d defies physical as well as spiritual description. Not because we don't possess the tools to accurately understand or grasp Him, but because of His essential transcendence of any and every description. Thus it is explained in Kabbalah that the ten sefirot are only the way G-d expresses Himself in order to relate to worlds.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Philosophy » Creation
Philosophy » Free Choice

Rashi
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105). Legendary French scholar who authored the fundemental and widely accepted "Rashi commentary" on the entire Bible and Talmud.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.