Pirke Avot 3:18—Rabbi Akiva used to say: Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God. It is a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God, as it is stated, ‘For in the image of God did God make man’ (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are the Children of Israel for they are called children of Adonai. It is a greater love that it was made known to them that they are called children of Adonai, as it is stated, ‘You are children to Adonai your God’ (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved is Israel that they were given a precious utensil (the Torah). It is a greater love that it was made known to them that they were given a precious utensil, as it is said, ‘For I have given you a good possession; do not forsake My Torah’ (Proverbs 4:2).”
July 13, 2018
1 Av 5778
Shabbat Matot-Masei Numbers 30:2-36:13
As Rabbi Akiva stated above (but changed slightly by me), “Beloved are human beings for they are created in the image of God.” Though, for some reason, Rabbi Akiva chose to quote Gen 9:6, I like the reference to the creation of human beings in Gen 1, “27And God created humans in God’s image, in the image of God, God created humans; male and female God created them. 28God blessed them…” The question that usually comes to mind is what does it mean to be created in God’s image? Some believe that God looks like a human being and even more so, what we look like. European religious art portrays God as a white European male. Africans draw Jesus as black. Jews, well we don’t like to draw pictures of God, but for a long time we had this notion of God as male. For most of religious history, we tended to focus on the physicality of being created in God’s image and anthropomorphized God.
Is the physical nature of God supposed to be our focus? I don’t think so. I believe that being created in the image of God is about who we are, how we live, how we act, the values we hold, and how we live all of this out in the world where we work and study and play and pray. Maybe this is too simple, but when I am asked about God I say that God exists and now I need to live my life in such a way that will demonstrate God’s existence. I am not perfect. I make my share of mistakes. Sometimes I act too quickly or say something without thinking it through, but I believe that the majority of my life serves to demonstrate that being created in the image of God means to act as God would want us to act and do as God would want us to do. I came from a very classical Reform Jewish home. Ritual was not present. On my Jewish journey I’ve embraced many rituals, but most of these rituals enhance my personal relationship with God. I’ve never gotten so ritually self-centered that I’ve forgotten the world around me. Whether it is hunger or shelter or women’s reproductive health or children at the border or immigrants or peace, I’ve tried. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called this “praying with your feet.” Sometimes it is praying with your hands. You can’t do everything for everyone but can do a lot for some.
What I don’t do in my relationship with God is blame God. Human beings need to take responsibility for their actions in this world that cause the problems that exist. I don’t believe that God causes cancer or poverty or floods or even war. Some of these things just happen and other things happen because we forget who we are and why we are here. I will be honest, I am in pain from the things I see and read about how people in this country dehumanize immigrants or treat LGBTQ people like pariahs or see poor people as dirt and black people as threats. I truly believe that we are better than this. This nature of public insult and harm that is pervasive in our society right now is tearing us apart. This is not acting as if we are created in God’s image. Dehumanizing others doesn’t make them less human, but it does drive us further from God. All of this needs to stop and we need to find a way to mend a tear in the fabric before it is too late.
Shabbat is coming soon. A few of our Temple members will start working on an Interfaith Habitat build. Other members may tend our community garden which is used to feed those in need. Others will serve a wonderful dinner at the Urban Ark. This is who we are, and we need more of this. We saw much of the world cheering for the rescue of the boys in Thailand, but we also need to cheer for the rescue of people everywhere in this world who are in need of a hand up. Every one of them is created in God’s image.
When you light your Shabbat candles this week, light one to shed God’s image of humanity over all of us. Light the other candle to remind us of what it means to be created in the image of God.
Rabbi Jon Adland