In the beginning of God’s work of creation, the world was without form. Nothing existed, not the oceans or the sky nor any living creatures. It is that moment, that beginning, that we are reminded of with the sounds of the shofar which we just heard at Rosh Hashanah. We said, “Hayom harat olam,” translated by some as “the birthday of world,” or “at birth.”
Literally translated, though, we are standing at the moment of absolute beginning, before birth even takes place.
And then God goes to work, each day creating new wonders, from the most basic atmosphere and land, to the stars in the sky, vegetation, animal life and finally human beings. The way the story is told changes slightly, however, when it comes to the creation of humans. Unlike the verses in which the other creations come to being, God recites a sort of introduction to the act of creating human beings. Prior to creating humans, God makes a declaration that humans will be created.
We learn from this declaration that the creation of the human will be unique from all the other creations. Unlike the other creations, the human, male and female, is created in the image of God.
The Mishnah in Sanhedrin gives us a little insight into this idea of being made in the image of God. “The greatness of the Holy One Blessed Be He is as when a person stamps several coins with one seal, they are all similar to one another. But the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He stamped every person with the seal of Adam and yet no one appears exactly as the other.”
But what then does it mean to be created in the image of God? If we are all different, how can we be in the image of God? After all, not even Moses, who the Torah describes having dealt with God face to face, ever actually saw the image of God. So if it is not a matter of appearance, what then is the meaning of being created in the image of God? What does this image look like? Perhaps the image we are talking about has nothing to do with looks. Perhaps it is much more than that.
In the Torah portion of Kedoshim, God admonishes the people “Kedoshim teheyu” (“You shall be holy”). But unlike some other commandments, a reason is given. The reason given is “Ki kadosh Ani Adonai” (“because I the Lord God am holy”). Thus, it is not in appearance that we are created to be in the image of God, but rather in our ability to be holy, our ability to do holy things. Being holy is being in the image of God. Being created in God’s image requires us to act a certain way, to perform God’s mitzvot, to be God’s agents here on earth, to be God’s partners by doing acts of lovingkindness for God’s other creations.
We are each created with the ability to be holy, to act in a holy way and lead a holy life. But unlike God’s other creations, we have the ability to choose how to honor and embody that image. We can think about what it means to be in God’s image. We can also think about what it means to act in a way that respects the status of others as God’s creations whether we agree with their opinions or not.
Many people begin their own day with a more than passing glance into the mirror. Some pause to admire while others pause to improve their appearance in one way or another. But maybe there is one other thing we can do when we look in the mirror. We can take a moment and remind ourselves that the image we are looking at is created in an image given to us by God. And then we can act accordingly. pjc
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer is rabbi of Adat Shalom Congregation.