Shabbat-Table Talks: Beresheet
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Value: All people are created in the “image of God” and are therefore special. The beginning of the Torah contains many important themes and values. The theologically paramount ideas that God created the world and He saw it to be “very good” underscore the central and positive position of man in creation. It is important to emphasize that this special “image of God” inheres in all people, not only Jews; as the first man that was created was, of course, not Jewish.
Text: Genesis 1: 26-31
God said: Let us make humankind , in our image, according to our likeness! Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heavens, animals, all the earth, and all crawling things that crawl about upon the earth! God created humankind in His image, in the image of God did He create it, male and female did He create them.
God blessed them, God said to them: Bear fruit and be many and fill the earth and subdue it! Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heavens, and all living things that crawl about upon the earth!
God said: Here, I give you all plants that bear seeds that are upon the face of all the earth, and all trees in which there is tree fruit that bears sees, for you shall they be, for eating; and also for all the living things of the earth, for all the fowl of the heavens for all that crawl about upon the earth in which there I living being—all green plants for eating. It was so. Now God saw all that He had made, and here: it was exceedingly good! There was setting, there was dawning: the sixth day.
Analysis: There are several special things about the Torah’s first description of the creation of mankind, when compared to the creation of everything else. First, God’s creation of mankind is preceded by God inviting others (angels?) to create mankind. (Not that any other being took part in the creation of mankind, but the very act of the invitation distinguishes the Torah’s description of the creation of mankind as opposed to any other created thing.)
Mankind is created in God’s “image and likeness.” That is not said about any other created thing. Although the precise meaning of these words is subject to interpretation, it is still an important distinction of mankind. We will focus on this point in the rest of the discussion.
A third difference is that God speaks to man directly. First in the blessing to multiply, then in God’s giving dominion to man over the animals and then in the permission to consume vegetables. In other words, God and man can and do communicate.
Clearly, God created mankind last because it is the pinnacle of creation. Note that after the creation of mankind, God determines that the creation of the world was “exceedingly good.”
Discussion: Ask: How do you understand the words “in God’s image?” [They could be explained by the following verses, namely that just as God has dominion so does man. Others have explained that just as God has free will so does man. Some have explained it that man functions with knowledge and awareness. An interesting explanation that I once heard is that just as God creates, so does man. What is man’s primary creation? Man creates himself through the choices that he makes in his life.]
What are the ramifications of mankind being created in God’s image? The Torah specifies that murder is punishable by death because man is created in God’s image:
For your blood, of your own lives, I will demand satisfaction—from all wild-animals I will demand it, and from humankind, from every man regarding his brother, demand-satisfaction for human life. Whoever now sheds human blood, by humans shall his blood be shed, for in God’s image He made humankind. (Genesis 8:6)
Human life is special. Violating human life by murdering, leads to the forfeiture of the murderer’s life. There is no means of compensating for the taking of an innocent human life.
This basic respect for human life is inherent to all human life, just because it is human. The Torah makes no distinction of race or religion, and no national distinctions. The rabbinic tradition makes this point expressly:
That is why man was created alone; to teach that anyone who destroys one life, Scripture considers it as if he killed the whole world. And any one who saves one life, scripture considers it as if he has saved a whole world.
[Man was also created alone] for peace and harmony between people. That no one can say that my father is greater than your father. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, based on manuscripts of the Mishnah).
There is no inherent difference between human beings. Everyone partakes of the “image of God,” regardless of his race or religion.
The fact that Judaism accepts converts, and that the status of the convert is exactly like the status of a person who was born Jewish underscores that there is no inherent difference.
However, if there is no inherent difference, why are Jews prohibited to marry non-Jews? The prohibition stems from the unacceptable beliefs and practices of non-Jews. Even if they are no longer pagan, they are not taking part in the mission of Israel until they convert. If a non-Jew converts to Judaism, according to the Torah law, he or she may marry a Jew.
Some other ramifications: One should not speak disparagingly about any race of people. Remember God’s image inheres in all human beings. One should not tell racial jokes—they leave a lasting impression. One should never refer to human beings as animals or other non-human life forms. That is the first step to denying their humanity.
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