Who is G‑d talking to when he says, "Let us create man in our image"? If G‑d
is the One and Only, why does he refer to Himself in plural form?
Great question. In fact, the biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki,
1040-1105) asks the same question in his commentary to the verse (Genesis 1:26).
Here is his explanation which is based on Midrashic sources:
"Although [the angels] did not assist Him in His creation, and there is
an opportunity for the heretics to rebel, to misconstrue the plural as a basis
for their heresies, Scripture did not hesitate to teach proper conduct and the
trait of humility, that a great person should consult with and receive permission
from a smaller one. Had it been written: "I shall make man," we would not have
learned that He was speaking with His tribunal, but to Himself.
And the refutation to the heretics is written alongside it, in the following
verse: "And G‑d created (וַיִּבְרָא)," and it does not say, "and they
G‑d was teaching us a great lesson in proper decision-making protocol. He did this at
the risk of people misconstruing the verse to mean that He had help.
Alternatively, you may like what Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1195-1270)
suggests. He says that G‑d was referring to the earth from which man was actually
formed. As we see in the next chapter (v. 7), "And the L-rd G‑d formed man of dust
from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became
a living soul."
Just to make things interesting, let me throw in another interpretation. Ibn
Ezra (Rabbi Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1089?-1164) opines that G‑d wasn't referring
to anybody, rather he was employing majestic plural, pluralis majestatis.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and sweet new year!
Rabbi Menachem Posner