Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Beginning

“And God said, ‘Let us make a human in our image, according to our likeness….’”
(Genesis 1:26)
From an early age, children begin to ask “why” to try to make sense of the world around them.  Similarly, this verse inspires me to ask “why is God speaking in the first person plural?” According to rabbinic legend, God is addressing a heavenly court of angels, consulting with them about whether the time to create humanity has arrived.  I love the image of God—almighty and above all creatures—asking permission to complete the work of creation.  According to Rashi’s commentary,[1] “the text teaches courtesy and humility; the greater person should consult and ask permission from the lesser person.”  This lesson resonates for me: When we share in the process of decision-making and treat each other with courtesy and respect, we elevate our daily interactions to acts of holiness. 

I take delight in the rabbinic legend that Tziporah recounts.  This verse also raises a question for me: Just how do human beings bear the image of God?  If we do not view as literal the anthropomorphic images of God popularized in Western art, how do we see our spirits as bearing the imprint of God’s DNA?  In what is often referred to as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” Jesus prayed, “…that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me.”[2]  Do we have the potential to be in God and to see God in every human being? Definitely.  Is this a Divine calling?  I think so.

Indeed, humility and courtesy are virtues that elevate the human rapport, and the idea of consultation[3] is innate to Islamic decision making.  However, Islam teaches that God is All Wise and All Knowing and therefore does not seek council from anyone. One Quranic account of the creation of man reads: “Behold! Thy Lord said to the angels: I am about to create man, from sounding clay from mud molded into shape; when I have fashioned him in due proportion and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance to him.” (15:29-30) God honors Adam by mentioning him to the angels before creating him and by commanding the angels to prostrate to him. Although different from the rabbinic legend, this narration leads to the same lesson of humility. If the heavenly court was commanded to honor Adam, are we not—as sons of Adam—commanded to honor each other and all God’s creatures?  Undoubtedly, acting with humility is one of the ways we honor God.

[1] Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki) lived in France (1040-1105).
[2] John 17: 22-23. This prayer offers Christians one way of understanding the plural use of “our” when referring to the one God.
[3] This concept is known as shura in Arabic.


  1. I have long considered the rationale behind using first person plural pronoun for God. I've heard the court of angels explanation. I've also heard that it's a regal thing (think Queen Victoria's famous, "We are not amused."). Regardless, I like it because it insists that readers think of God as inclusive.

  2. The essence of this original quote has, in fact, has always puzzled me. I find it a good resolution that this explanation and extrapolation of the text acts as an encouraging impetus to guide our actions in the image of our creator.
    It is very rich indeed.

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