"And G-d said, 'Let Us make man, in Our own form, like Our own image...'"
The Medrash says that when Moshe reached this verse, he questioned it. "Why
should the verse read 'let us,' thus leaving the door open for those who
deny that there is only one G-d?" This is, of course, a fundamental
distinction between Judaism and idolatry -- and the verse seems to indicate
that there is more than one G-d, Heaven forbid! The question is even
stronger, because the word Elo-him is itself plural. We understand this
similarly to the royal "we," but when the verse is also plural, it sounds as
if there is a "plurality."
G-d answered Moshe, telling him to write it as given. People can learn a
lesson in proper conduct from this verse. If a person ever asks, "why
should I consult my subordinates before making a decision?" -- we can
answer that person by saying, "learn from your Creator, who Created the
angels and the entire universe, and then consulted with the angels before
creating man!" So this was the reason why Moshe was told to write the verse
as indicated. And as for those who would reach the wrong conclusion, "one
who wishes to err, let him err."
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt"l finds this answer troubling. In business, we
know that there is something called a "cost-benefit relationship." Before
going into a business opportunity, we look at the potential gains, and we
also look at the potential losses. If one can make a substantial amount of
money at low risk, then that qualifies as a good business venture. But if
one has the opportunity to make a small amount of money, but in doing so
risks his entire fortune -- that's foolish! Any intelligent investor would
decide to take his or her money elsewhere.
Now, without question, the lesson in derech eretz [proper conduct] is very
valuable. But when we look at the other side of the equation, we find one
of the fundamentals of Jewish belief. A person could misread this verse and
depart from Judaism entirely! How, from a "cost-benefit" perspective, is it
worthwhile for the Torah to use a potentially misleading expression in such
a "high risk" situation?
The answer, says Rabbi Wasserman, is that the "danger" is an illusion. In
reality, there is no such risk -- for thousands of years, Jews of all ages
have read, studied and learned this verse, in childhood, their teens,
adulthood and senior years. And not once has one of them lifted his or her
head from the page and said -- "you see, there's more than one G-d (ch"v)!"
It doesn't work that way. Rather, a person decides to take off down a new
path, and then -- post-facto, as it were -- goes into the text and searches
for justification for his or her position. If he doesn't find this, he will
find something else. There is no real loss, nothing to be gained by using a
different expression, so it is not worth passing up the opportunity for
such a beautiful lesson.
As G-d said to Moshe in the Medrash, one who _wishes_ to make a mistake,
let him make one -- the verse is not leading him in that direction. One who
wants the truth will get it: Rashi adds that the answer is in the very next
verse, which says that G-d created them -- and uses the singular form for
"created", rather than the plural.
One does not make theological mistakes by learning. One makes theological
mistakes through a _lack_ of learning. When a person is parched with a
spiritual thirst, any water tastes delicious -- whether a polluted stream
or the pure waters of Torah. Then one searches out verses in Torah to
support the new ideology, and of course -- given enough time -- finds them.
The only adequate preventative is -- the real thing. Every Jewish child
deserves the opportunity to learn about Judaism, to study the Torah, to
join the 3300-year-old avocation of our people. It's the joy of a lifetime,
and the only way to ensure a Jewish future. Not that it's ever too late to
start -- but why not start early?