Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

What Is the “Divine Image” in Man?

What Is the “Divine Image” in Man?

 Email

Question:

The Bible (Genesis 1:26) states that man was created in “G‑d’s image.” What does this mean?

Response:

So much wisdom is crammed into those two words! Allow me to share just a bit of it.

The statement that we are created in the image of G‑d means that we were formed as a reflection of our Creator’s attributes and characteristics. This cannot be taken to mean that we literally look, feel or think like G‑d does, because He has no form and is not limited in any way. Rather, we are like a one-dimensional reflection of a real object. From the reflection we can have an inkling of the original, but the reflection is literally nothing in comparison to the original.

This is expressed in many ways: some physical, others psychological, and still others are purely in the spiritual realm. Here are some of them:

  1. The physical body of man, with eyes, ears, a nose, two hands, two feet, and so on is a reflection of the G‑dly attributes which prevail openly in the spiritual worlds, and in a concealed manner in our world. The shape of our body is similar to the placement of the G‑dly sefirot (attributes). We have a right side and a left side because G‑d expresses Himself in two ways, right (kindness) and left (severity). And so on.
  2. The Torah teaches us that man alone has free choice. All other creations are doing exactly what they are programmed to do, and cannot change their natures. Only the human being has to power to grow, mature and change, because he or she is a reflection of G‑d, who is unlimited.
  3. Man was endowed with the power to think independently, to peer into the future and to make rational decisions. This is a reflection of G‑d’s infinite wisdom.1
  4. “Just as the soul fills the body, so does G‑d fill the world.” Our bodies are vitalized by our souls, but our souls themselves are invisible. Yet, through seeing the life in the body, one can appreciate the soul within. G‑d enlivens and creates the worlds, yet He is invisible. But He is evident in every creation.2
Footnotes
1.
Rashi to Genesis 1:26.
2.
Talmud, Berachot 10a.
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
9 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Bochur Morristown, NJ April 13, 2013

About animals... To those of you who are saying that the rabbi here is incorrect in what he says about how animals can't change their nature: animals, no matter how much you teach them, are still in ESSENCE animals. (For example, see the story of Maimonides about the cats.) Reply

Scott Davis San Ramon April 11, 2013

Language Of G-d Is For Communication (communion /habitation/ among his creation) With His Creation. "This cannot be taken to mean that we literally look, feel or think like G‑d does, because He has no form and is not limited in any way. Rather, we are like a one-dimensional reflection of a real object. From the reflection we can have an inkling of the original, but the reflection is literally nothing in comparison to the original."

Is not The Word of G-d more than one dimensional? The Lord commands, Of His Image bearers (who are likewise more than one dimensional), to Love Him with all their Heart, all their Soul, all their Mind, and all their Strength. And Love Your neighbor (made in the image of G-d) as yourself.

I love the reference of G-d having ears to hear the voices of his image bearers. As in the Psalms of David conversing with our G-d, even crying out with emotion, knowledge, intellect, humor, pain, and existential reality, and personal need. The Psalms prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that man is fully dimensional in the expressed image of His Maker. Reply

Anonymous NY April 7, 2013

Combining science and faith I believe our G-d intended us in His image as living spirit with discernment. Our vehicle is our body designed for our environment. Since we are constructed in this manner, I believe we are provided with the idea that G-d has a vehicle much like ours only more glorious so we might get a visual of something we would understand more readily as in early times we had more of a tendency to fear the unknown or the real truth of the unknown. Moving forward in time, as we were able to move outward via invention, we find people are different from us. We fear even color or differences in eye shapes because they are different from our own. Moving forward, we begin to see difference is normal. We have learned to accept individuality over time in preparation for coming events. I believe this is in preparation for the day He will present us with true form. The descriptions provided of "Living God" and purity and light in descriptions of His Omnipotence leads me to believe He is pure energy. Reply

Ralph NY April 7, 2013

In response to Rabbi Happyman and Yehadut With all due respect, I think you misunderstood what Rabbi Posner wrote. Just because chimps possess fine motor skills does not mean that they have the wisdom and independent intellect that the human being possesses thanks to our innate divine image, the chimps intellect is programmed into him (not prompted by humans as Rabbi H. wrote). An analogy for your logic would be someone claiming that calculators are really space ships because they both run on electricity! Reply

Rabbi Happyman New Rochelle, NY June 24, 2009

question The Torah teaches us that man alone has free choice. All other creations are doing exactly what they are programmed to do and cannot change their natures.

How can this be totally true, when it is known that chimps use tools to gather ants to eat, dogs will rescue people in danger when not asked to? Reply

sue Kanata, ON May 5, 2009

"Isness" "He has no form"
All of we beings are endowed with the ability to experience what being alive is, so that is-ness or the source of all life as we believe it to exist, offered to humankind the qualities of survival necessary for separate lives on separate planets.

By its nature, great or small collectives share some aspect of shaping that reflects the sources of original living collectives, which have evolved according to the ecologies of our planets; these are also living collectives.
But now, we believe that "He" has no form. What Rob W. has said is true; we project our concepts of majesty and leadership upon the immensity that we want our One to be, but we have not stopped sexing it according to the arcane concept within fading male supremacist social power structures. Reply

Anonymous Titwala-East, India May 1, 2009

What is the "Divine Image"in Man? ByM.P. I am extremely impressed by the article written by Rabbi Menachem Pesner. If it is the duty of a man to protect the creaations of Gd then why a voracious reader like Hitler could not understand that? And why Holocaust happened? I feel surprised to hear about some Iranians who dare to deny Holocaust? Reply

yehadut New York, NY November 26, 2007

Wrong about animals Sadly, the rabbi is wrong about animals. Animals, especially the great apes, have shown amazing abilities. They have been taught language, they perform complex problem solving, they have culture that they pass on from generation to generation, they invent and use tools, they experience the whole panoply of emotions, from compassion to grief to humor.

Perhaps Adam and Eve were primates from which we and the great apes both evolved. Or perhaps the image of G-d is in humans but not exclusively so. The traditional view of animals have been proven naive. We should embrace them in our circle of concern, for they surely play a role in G-d's design just as we do, and not just to serve us. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / USA October 8, 2007

Thank you, Rabbi Posner, for that interesting and enlightening article. It is often said that Man made G-d in Man's image. I often think so when I see people project so much human gunk on G-d, and then call it "faith." Some people (religious and atheist alike) try to "play G-d" when they think they know the whole truth or try to control others. A Jewish Taoist friend tried to suggest that G-d is not conscious. I suspect that misses the point 'cause I would imagine that just as we are about a billion times more conscious than bacteria, G-d is infinitely more conscious than us. Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages