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Recent Questions

Acting in the Image of God

I often see a reference to people being “created in the image of God.” I think this is a beautiful way to treat others, but I don't always see people acting this way. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The verse in Genesis 1:27 primarily teaches that the human being – like God – has a degree of free will and independence.

But you are correct that the idea of “image of God” should spill over into our interpersonal relationships as well. We should treat others with kindness and respect because every human is created in the image of God. Irrespective of race, level of intelligence, or degree of physical fitness. In identifying the Godliness within each person, we not only honor the individual, but bring more of God's presence into the world as well.

Consider the following story, which occurred about 100 years ago in Europe:

One day, a man reported that a great rabbi was walking down the road, heading into town for an unexpected visit. This was truly a special occasion! Word spread quickly, and all the townspeople hurried to dress in their finest Shabbos clothes, in order to great the rabbi with great honor and respect.

Soon after, however, it was discovered that the original report was mistaken, and the man thought to be a great rabbi was in fact just an ordinary traveler. So all the townspeople went back to their activities, leaving the traveler to fend for himself. Except for one person. He went out to greet the stranger grandly, and invited him to be the guest of honor at a lavish meal.

The other townspeople saw this and inquired: "Why are you bothering – he's no great rabbi!" To which the man replied, "A human being is a human being. And we must honor him just the same."


Enosh, Calling God’s Name, and the Origins of Idolatry

I was studying the book of Genesis and came across the statement that in the time of Enosh, Adam’s grandson, mankind began calling in the name of God (4:26). Can you explain to me what that’s all about and if it has anything to do with Enosh.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are right that it is a bit of a cryptic expression. The commentators offer two basic explanations, ones which are quite at odds with each other.

The first step towards understanding that phrase is in looking at the original Hebrew. The word for “began”, in “mankind began calling…,” is “huchal”. That word has two very different possible meanings – to begin (related to “l’hatchil”), or to become profane (as “chol”, “chulin”). Based on these interpretations, two very different explanations are offered, as follows.

(1) The phrase means that in Enosh’s time it became “profane” to call in the name of God. The reason it became profane is because people began applying the name “god” to non-sacred objects, such as heavenly bodies and human beings. Thus, calling in the name of god in those times had become a profane activity, one of worshipping idols (Rashi based on Bereishit Rabbah 23:10, Targum Yerushalmi).

Maimonides (Hilchot Avodah Zarah1:1) explains how the world sunk to idolatry so quickly, a mere two generations after Adam and Eve. People at first felt that honoring God’s heavenly bodies, which assist God in governing the world, would serve as a means of honoring God Himself – just as people give homage to a king’s ministers. Enosh himself fell for this logic. They began praising the heavenly bodies, bowing to them, and bringing them offerings, all in the name of honoring the God they serve. (Some alternatively explain that since God entrusted the running of the world to other forces, such as the heavenly bodies, mankind began praying directly to them to grant them bounty (Radak, see also Malbim).)

All of this was wrong, however, as honor may only be accorded to God Himself. All else is idolatry. And after time, mankind began serving such heavenly bodies as gods themselves, forgetting altogether the true God behind them.

(2) Based on the other explanation of “huchal” – began, the meaning is that in Enosh’s time mankind began calling out to and praying to the true God (Targum Onkelos, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam). Some of the commentators explain that the implication is likewise that the masses had begun sliding towards idolatry in Enosh’s days; thus, the righteous began calling God’s name and publicizing it to counter the trend (Sforno, Ha’emek Davar).

(3-4) In truth, the Torah’s phrase is so vague that variations of the above two explanations also appear in the commentators. The meaning of huchal can possible be “began” but in a negative sense – that man began calling non-sacred objects god (Targum Yonatan, Radak, possible explanation of Rashi and Midrash). Or huchal could mean profane in the sense that mankind began to look at true God-worship as a profane and pointless activity, instead turning to idols (variation of Onkelos).

Regardless, our tradition is that Enosh’s generation served as a tragic turning point in mankind’s history – in man’s spiritual decline towards idolatry. This tragically occurred quite early – in Adam’s very lifetime. The Sages likewise teach us that God punished that generation with a massive flood which destroyed 1/3rd of the world (Midrash Tanchuma Noach 18) – which unfortunately was a mere prelude and precursor to the much more terrible destruction man would bring upon himself with the Flood.


Taking Codes Seriously

I am impressed by the Torah Codes, but one thing I cannot understand: If they are so amazing and true, why doesn't the whole world take them more seriously? Why aren't people dropping everything and running off to Jerusalem to study in yeshiva?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Your question is very logical. But unfortunately most people make decisions based on emotion, not logic. (Any salesman will confirm this.)

Human beings tend to get into a lifestyle mode, where changes are uncomfortable. So we employ a wide variety of rationalizations to convince ourselves why the proposed change is really not worthwhile.

I imagine this is why some people stay in abusive relationships, or continue to work at dissatisfying jobs.

Another reason why some people may not be “open” to hearing the truth of Torah Codes is because science has given us a very satisfactory feeling of being able to understand and control our world. Acknowledging the existence of a Creator demands an investigation of what that Creator wants from us. This has vast implications – such as acknowledging absolute standards of behavior, accepting ultimate responsibility, humbling oneself before an Infinite Being, etc.

We say in the Aleynu prayer, that "You shall KNOW this day, and understand it well in your HEART, that the Almighty is God, in Heaven above and Earth below, there is none other" (Deut. 4:39). This tells us that it is not enough to simply know God in your head, you must also understand it in your heart.

Here's hoping that we all can get our head to speak to our heart, and live with what we intellectually know to be true.


Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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