web analytics
August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Reflections on the Divine Image

What does it mean when we say that man was created in the image of God?
Rabbi Norman Lamm

Rabbi Norman Lamm

Editor’s Note: The following sermon was delivered by Rabbi Lamm on October 15, 1960. What’s truly astonishing is how relevant his remarks remain more than 52 years later; indeed, had we not just noted the date on which the speech originally was given, readers likely would have assumed it to be of very recent vintage.

This and 34 other lectures and speeches given by Rabbi Lamm between 1952 and 1976, while he served as a congregational rabbi in New York and Massachusetts, appear in a new anthology, “Drashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages,” published by Maggid, a division of Koren.

The concept of man’s creation betzelem Elokim, in the image of God, is one of the most sublime ideas that man possesses, and is decisive in the Jewish concept of man.

What does it mean when we say that man was created in the image of God?

Varying interpretations have been offered, each reflecting the general ideological orientation of the interpreter.

The philosophers of Judaism, the fathers of our rationalist tradition, maintain that the image of God is expressed, in man, by his intellect.

Thus, Saadia Gaon and Maimonides maintain that sechel, reason, which separates man from animal, is the element of uniqueness that is in essence a divine quality. The intellectual function is thus what characterizes man as tzelem Elokim.

However, the ethical tradition of Judaism does not agree with that interpretation.

Thus, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his Mesilat Yesharim, does not accept reason as the essence of the divine image. A man can, by exercise of his intellect, know what is good but fail to act upon it. Also, the restriction of tzelem Elokim to reason means that only geniuses can truly qualify as being created in the image of God.

Hence, Luzzatto offers an alternative and perhaps more profound definition. The tzelem Elokim in which man was created is that of ratzon – the freedom of will. The fact that man has a choice between good and evil, between right and wrong, between obedience and disobedience to God, is what expresses the image of God in which he was born. An animal has no freedom to act; a man does. That ethical freedom makes man unique in the creation.

But how does the freedom of the human will express itself? A man does not assert his freedom by merely saying “yes” to all that is presented to him. Each of us finds himself born into a society which is far from perfect. We are all born with a set of animal drives, instincts, and intuitions. If we merely nod our heads in assent to all those forces which seem more powerful than us, then we are merely being passive, plastic, and devoid of personality. We are then not being free, and we are not executing our divine right of choice.

* * * * *

Freedom, the image of God, is expressed in the word “no.” When we negate that which is indecent, evil, ungodly; when we have the courage, the power, and the might to rise and announce with resolve that we shall not submit to the pressures to conform to that which is cheap, that which is evil, that which is indecent and immoral – then we are being free men and responding to the inner divine image in which we are created.

The late Rabbi Aaron Levine, the renowned Reszher Rav, interpreted, in this manner, the famous verse from Ecclesiastes (3:19) which we recite every morning as part of our preliminary prayers. Solomon tells us, “Umotar haadam min habehema ayin,” which is usually translated as “And the preeminence of man over beast is naught.”

Rabbi Levine, however, prefers to give the verse an interpretation other than the pessimistic, gloomy apparent meaning. He says: “And the preeminence of man over beast is ayin, ‘no.’ ”

What is it that gives man his distinction? What is it that makes man different from the rest of creation, superior to the rest of the natural world? It is his capacity to say ayin, his capacity to face the world and announce that he will not submit to it, that he will accept the challenge and respond “no.”

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, a pioneer in Jewish education whose association with Yeshiva University spanned more than six decades, is one of American Orthodoxy’s most respected scholars, writers, speakers and administrators.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Reflections on the Divine Image”

  1. Ch Hoffman says:

    when R Lamm was a dynamic force in the Jewish Community, he was a real powerhouse.

    Then he became a slave to the principle of institutional self-preservation, and committed the ultimate sin of sweeping his problem under someone else' rug.

    It should be a lesson to all who aspire to greatness, that running an organization distorts one's viewpoint.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
UN Troops look at smoke rising from Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Aug. 27, 2014
Irish UN Troops Free Filipino UN Troops
Latest Indepth Stories
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

TorahScroll AoT17

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

Troodler-082914

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

Eisenstock-082914

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

We risk our lives to help those who do what they can to kill to our people .

Twain grasped amazingly well the pulse of the Jewish people.

The entertainment industry appears divided about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

More Articles from Rabbi Norman Lamm
Rabbi Norman Lamm

A thousand years ago, the great Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon taught that our Torah is reasonable and that the human intellect, by itself, can discover the great truths taught in Scripture. Given enough time and brilliance, the human mind can, unaided, arrive at the precepts and concepts revealed by God at Sinai.

Rabbi Norman Lamm

What does it mean when we say that man was created in the image of God?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/reflections-on-the-divine-image/2013/02/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: