(1: 26) “And G-d said, let us make humanity in our own form and image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals and all the earth, and anything that crawls upon the land.”
Perhaps it should not surprise us that this verse, which describes the creation of man, offers us so much to learn about ourselves – and it’s all in Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the first commentary most people study). Here, says Rashi, we see G-d’s great modesty. “Because a person is in the image of the angels, and the angels were jealous of him, therefore He [G-d] consulted them.” And later, “Even though they did not help with man’s creation, and there is an opening here for heretics to rebel, still the Torah did not hold itself back from teaching us proper conduct and the trait of modesty – that the one who is greater should consult and ask permission of the lesser. Had it said ‘I will make humanity,’ we would not have learned that He spoke with His court… And the answer is nearby: ‘and G-d created the human,’ where it does not say ‘and they created…'”
Obviously, the trait of modesty is so important, so crucial, that it is necessary for the Torah to teach it to us even when doing so leaves a clear opening for distortion of its message. And in telling us of G-d’s humility at the very moment of our Creation, the Torah hints to us how much this trait affects our own development. As we see later – the humblest of men (Moses) is the one who merited to receive the Torah from G-d’s mouth!
Then, says Rashi, “in our image” means “to understand and to discern.” What is it that makes us G-dly? Our ability to look at things and reach beyond the physical. Koko the gorilla can tell objects apart, and tell you what it wants for dinner. But don’t expect a discussion of philosophy. Another fundamental of Judaism — it is our ability to reason and understand that is the very core of our spirituality.
But that comes with a warning: “And let them rule…” continues the verse. The word used, however, is “V’Yirdu” — Rashi: “This language contains a meaning of rulership (Ridui) and a meaning of descent (Yerida). If he merits, he will rule over the animals, and if he does not merit, he will descend before them.”
It is up to us: if we use our ability to reason and we seek out spirituality, then we hold ourselves high over the animals. But if we use our brains merely as tools for physical benefit – to seek out pleasures more efficiently than Koko ever could – then by using a spiritual gift for profane purposes, we show ourselves to be lower than those same animals.
The decision is ours.
Text Copyright © 1994 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.