In The Image of G-d — Pikrei Avot series

Ayin Tove
In The Image of G-d
3/18/2010

We learn in the Talmud:

Beloved is man (literally “Adam”) for he was created in the Image.
Even more beloved is man that it was made known to him that he was created in the Image.

Pirkei Avot 3:18 (quoting Rabbi Akiva).

Descartes attempted to prove the existence of G-d based on the fact that we have an idea of G-d.  Specifically, he reasoned that our idea of G-d is like the signature with which a sculptor signs his work.  Meditations 3:38.  Whereas Descartes started with man, and tried to prove the existence of G-d, Rabbi Akiva in the above passage starts with G-d and explains the effect on man.  Rabbi Akiva follows the first Biblical creation story:

And G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  They shall have dominion over the fish of the sea and the bird of the heaven and all the earth and all the creepy things that creep on the earth.  And G-d created man in His Image, in His Image G-d created him, male and female created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27.

Rabbi Akiva’s insight is that man is beloved because of this genesis.  Whereas Descartes was interested in the facts of existence (I think therefore I am; I think of G-d therefore G-d is), Rabbi Akiva is interested in what it means to be created by G-d, and specifically created in the divine image.

This is the same Rabbi Akiva who said that the most important verse in the Bible is “Love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.”  Lev. 19-18.  For Rabbi Akiva, we have an obligation to love ourselves and our fellow humans, because we are all created in the Image of G-d.

This is the basis for much modern thought.  Rabbi David Hartman and others have described “creational ethics.”  The basic idea is that people deserve to be treated well because they exist and they’re people too, just like you and me.

We could have a good discussion about what is the Image of G-d and what it means to be created in the Image of G-d, i.e., what man has in common with G-d.  Maimonedes (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon or the Rambam) explains in his Guide to the Perplexed that, for Jews, the Image of G-d is not physical or corporeal, and may be hard to define because G-d is beyond definition.

In any case, we are beloved by being created in the divine Image, and we are beloved because we can do something with this knowledge.

Ayin Tove is the pen name for a lawyer working for the federal government in Washington, D.C.