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How is man made in the image of God?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Nisan 20, 5774
When scripture says man is made in the image of God what is it talking about. In what way is man made in the image of God? Obviously it can’t be his shape because God is spirit and He has no shape. But if it is not shape then what is it in man that we can say that he is made in the image of God?
Your question touches upon one of the central points of man’s essence and our role in this world. When the Torah teaches us that God created man, “and He breathed into (man’s) nostrils the living soul” (Genesis 2, 7), this metaphor is explained by our rabbis: “anyone who ‘breathes into’ blows in that which He has inside Himself” (e.g. one blows into a balloon the air which one has in his lungs). Accordingly, that soul, which is man’s essence, is what God breathed into man, as if it were, a “spark” of God Himself. That soul is also called “the image of God” (ibid, 1, 27), or literally the “shadow” of God (in Hebrew: tzel/em). Just like a shadow copies or imitates the person’s actions, but is clearly not the person, so too man is meant to emulate or copy God (“imitateo dei”), even though we are clearly not Him. In short, every person has a unique spark of God, and we are all capable of and meant to reveal our Godly selves, which is our true essential self (we are not our bodies which are constantly changing, but rather our souls= our Godly spark= our unique individual image of God=our shadow of God). Similarly, when I want to “come close” to God, if He has no physical body, the only possibility is to be similar to His ways (e.g. like a counterfeit bill can “be close”= similar, to the original). How can we copy or “be the image” of God? By emulating in our daily lives towards our families, neighbors, and nation, God’s 13 attributes: “The Lord, the Lord, mighty, merciful, and gracious, patient and abundant in love and truth etc. etc. (Exodus 34, 6-7). In other words, man’s role is to be Godly by revealing his Godly self=image=soul=essence through God’s Torah and her teachings. Happy Pesach! Rav Ari Shvat
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