By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
“In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and earth, God said: “Let there be light; and there was light”(1). The first Torah parsha of the Book of Genesis, Bereishit, is probably the most familiar of any other portions of the Torah.
The wondrous origination of the universe in six days, the dramatic story of Adam and Eve, how a serpent intervened and caused their exile from the ‘Garden of Eden,’ the infamous response of Cain to God: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ all comprise a narrative rich in sensationalism and enchantment.
Numerous articles, commentaries and essays have been written about this week’s parsha. Despite all the different components of Bereishit, virtually all of the analyses focus on only one line:
“And God created man in His image; the image of God He created him, male and female”(2).
Widely divergent opinions and theories flourished from our most highly esteemed rabbinical scholars, Talmudists, philosophers and psychologists. In creating humans, God brought into existence the one life form, with the sole exception of Himself, capable of freedom of thought. The salient and basic tenet of Judaism is that God has no image. To make an image of God is the archetypical act of idolatry. The significance is not just that God is invisible, He cannot be identified with anything in nature.
According to Sigmund Freud, “God has no image. That was Judaism’s greatest contribution; by worshiping an invisible God, Jews tilted the balance of civilization from the physical to the spiritual”(3). Maimonides stated: “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is not physical, and is not affected by physical phenomena, and there is no comparison, whatsoever, to Him”(4). Maimonides elaborated: “By using our intellect we are able to perceive things without the use of our physical senses, an ability that makes us like God”(5).
Other theories pertaining to the creation of humanity with free will include Rashi: “We are like God in that we have the ability to understand and discern”(6). Onkelos, the Roman convert, who became the first Jew to offer a translation of the Torah into Aramaic, believed that the major difference between human beings and other species is the ability to communicate, even with God”(7).
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto proposes an entirely different perspective on the issue: “God built humans out of a mixture of opposites; in one sense, man is an earthly creature driven by physical desires and sensations, like any other animal; God also gave man a soul whose ultimate desire is to be reunited with its Divine origins; it is this aspect of the human being which has a selfless commitment to relationships with others, and with God”(8).
Nachmanides claims a similar opinion: “Remove the soul and man becomes an animal; remove his body and man ceases to become an individual”(9).
None of these dissonant theories are ‘facts;’ they are ideas. There is only one singular fact…and this fact is that any individual who is reading these commentaries and contemplating his or her own personal relationship with God, is doing exactly what would please God: learning from the Torah.
(1) GENESIS (1:1-3)
(2) GENESIS (1:27)
(3) Sigmund Freud, “Moses and Monotheism,” 1939, (knopf Publishing)
(4) Maimonides, “Thirteen Principles of Faith”
(7) “Onkolos on Torah”
(8) Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzatto, “Deresh Hashem” (“The Way of God”), Padua, Italy (1707-1746)
(9) Nachmanides, “Commentary on the Torah,” Girona, Spain (1194-1270)