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Who was G‑d addressing when He said, "Let US create man in our image"?

Who was G‑d addressing when He said, "Let US create man in our image"?

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 created (וַיִּבְרְאוּ)."

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!

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Donald ("Don") MacLeod Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia November 22, 2017

I am struggling with the dictate that we must "fear" G-d. How can I /we both fear and love G-d? From a human perspective, loving and fearing another person would suggest some psychological difficulty. Shalom. Reply

ogcstd Mobile November 24, 2017
in response to Donald ("Don") MacLeod:

This "fear" should have been more properly translated from the words that meant to reference God. Reply

Soni uk July 18, 2017

There are no answers to these sort of esoteric questions...not really. And where did language come from to even say 'let there be light? And was light created before the Sun was created? What was a day anyway before the sun and moon were created? When did time start, and how was it measured by man? Too many questions re this fantastic and amazing world, but only prosaic opinions and flowery guesses for answers. Reply

abel okoro nigeria November 19, 2017
in response to Soni:

Add a comment...very correct my friend. Reply

Maggie Burnell Arizona October 26, 2016

Created in His image In His image, is the spiritual part of Hashem, which He breathed into us. The physical part of us, our bodies is just the outer form us us in this world, it is up to us to use the spiritual part of G-d in us, to emulate G-d in this s world. I am not Jewish, I am Noahide/Ger, and embrace the teachings of Torah & Holy Sages of old, in my opinion Judaism is the only path to truth and being close to Our Creator, blessed be He. Reply

Donald ("Don") MacLeod Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia November 21, 2017
in response to Maggie Burnell:

Well said Maggie. I am a student of Noahide in Nova Scotia (Eastern Canada). I have one friend in this province who has been a Noahide for some time. He is also my Brother in Freemasonry. Unfortunately, he and his wife live at least 2+ hours drive from our home. We communicate regularly via email and he is most supportive of my efforts. I hope to eventually find other Noahides here in our province's capitol, Halifax. Shalom Don Reply

Paul Bourgeois October 26, 2016

Mirror Is there a sense that when man prays he is talking to himself (the best qualities of himself, the Divine qualities of himself) because when one asks "How does G-d Exist?" isn't one aspect of this Existence (one of many aspects, because thou G-d is One, what we see are many aspects through the filter of our own eyes) a reflexive/reflective quality? Reply

Donald Nova Scotia, Canada October 21, 2016

Why do we humans, as Anonymous Local did, refer to G-d as "the guy"? G-d is spirit not human. I am puzzled by the Biblical statement, that "G-d made man in his image." If G-d is Spirit and we are flesh and blood, how can that be possible? I doubt this means we all physically look like G-d. Shalom/Peace Reply

Ilsa Gonzalez Lehigh acres July 15, 2017
in response to Donald:

Our heart, soul, mind emotion is spiritual and that's what we are made of. When you think about it, we are more spirit than flesh Reply

Donald ("Don") MacLeod Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada November 22, 2017
in response to Ilsa Gonzalez:

That sound about right. Our body as a "vessel" in which my "soul" resides. Reply

Anonymous Local March 1, 2015

Although I am by no means a religious person, I do believe that the actual answer to this question is: "the guy who wrote the verse...wrote it this way...because he could." Reply

Paul Bourgeois January 8, 2015

A single point, an infinite light, an eternal truth, whole and indivisible and beyond comprehension is reflected and filtered again and again so that it seems broken and many but in Truth it is only One. Reply

Maggie Burnell Arizona December 23, 2014

Let us make man.... Could it be that, He spoke to the nefesh of Adam, as a way of our cooperating with Him in the care of ourselves and creation in the world, is it not our responsibility to care for ourselves and others as well as the world, in order to hurry the arrival of Moshiach. .? Reply

Jerald Gould Montreal, Quebec. October 26, 2014

"Let Us Make Man In Our Image " It is said that the Angels had a completely different Image as compared to G-D , so when G-D said "Our" Image" , as if including them or whoever He might have been referring to would therefore naturally cause a conflict in the interpretation ?
On the otherhand if G-D meant that in " His Image" to mean , in His Goodness , in His Spirit which He imbued into man/woman , to mean in "His Likeness" which we could then better relate to, for no one knows what G-D looks like .
What say you ? Reply

Anonymous October 23, 2014

Elohim is plural used as a singular in context in Torah. Cherubim is an example but is not treated as a singular in the text. Check it out for yourself. Reply

Anonymous Nash, TX October 18, 2014

Human-kind is not a one dimensional being. That we are made in the image of G-d tells me that He is not either. This flesh that is made of the dust of the earth is one part, my spirit is the second part. Mishlei (Proverbs) 18:20-21 tells me that my tongue has power over life and death and D'varim (Deuteronomy) 30:19 tells me that life and death, blessing and cursing are set before me. I am, therefore, to choose life so that me and my descendants will live...
So my words have a persona all their own. If I can ever disciple my flesh, my words and my though life to ...love the L-rd my G-d, paying attention to what He says and clinging to Him...then the purpose of my life will be complete and I will truly look, inside and out, like my Creator.
If your thought-life was wrapped in flesh for a day would others say it reflects the L-rd your G-d? If your words were clothed in skin would it reflect the glory with which He created you? Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via chabadcamarillo.com September 30, 2014

Re: Who Recorded G-D'S Words" (response to Jerald) I assume you are really trying to ask how do we know what G-d said when there was no human to record it. The answer you are seeking is that G-d remembered the words and told Moses many years later. (Of course, there is no scientific proof that G-d told Moses the truth; you have to take that on faith.)

Theoretically, I suppose that an angel could have recorded the words, but I don't know that any did. Reply

Jerald Montreal September 25, 2014

Who Recorded G-D'S Words ,"Let Us Make Man In Our Image '', When Man Was Not Created Yet ? Reply

Anonymous September 12, 2014

in the beginning of man the Creator created the heavens and the earth ...
How long is "and the " ? Reply

Anonymous September 12, 2014

These interpretations make no sense to the one who truly questions the meaning to that specific scripture. I am disappointed to say the least and will keep seeking. Reply

iap337 Dublin, Ireland. May 6, 2014

Heresies from Judaism?? Just an academic question, who are the heretics that you refer to? What doctrinal deviations from the Judaic view on the matter of creation have arisen? Reply

Anonymous August 11, 2013

HaShem G-d is one, why use "us" as in Let us make man.... Reply

Anonymous ca April 26, 2013

Let us make... (us) meaning more than 1..(make) only God is Lord of all creation. Not angels or humans.. Reply

penny Cda, Id October 16, 2011

G-d plurality Thank you for various explanations. I understand one thing, no one really knows for sure. G-D'S pluralism at creation could be understood in various ways, but why it hasn't been explored is that G-d being omnipresent could be just references himself. I believe that creation has never stopped, that HE continues to create for infinity. Reply

gershon mcgreevy December 29, 2009

Mrs. Kay: Solid answers imply that the Torah is a one-dimensional text with only one meaning. However, the Torah is not a shopping list or a fifth-grade report. It is G-d's wisdom. G-d is pretty deep, okay? Sometimes the things He writes have multiple meanings, and this may be one of those places. So dive in and enjoy! Reply

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