Mystical Tour Parshat Bereishit: The Uniqueness of Mankind
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Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

The Uniqueness of Mankind

The beginning of Genesis is the deepest section of the entire Torah and is discussed at length by the kabbalists. There is no end to its depth. An Infinite Being gave mankind a manifesto, a speech - the Torah - in which He imbedded all wisdom that is to be known.

God is part of every molecule of creation, but His essence, so to speak, is expressed in the Torah. As He is infinite, so is the Torah. Of course, there is a text which is finite, but as much as a finite text can have a conceptual and a spiritual basis that is connected to the Infinite, so is God's word to us.

You can study that from now until the day you die, and you will continue to learn new insights every day about yourself, life, spirituality, and the Infinite.

 

* * *

 

THE IMAGE OF GOD

"And the Almighty said, 'Let us make Man in Our image, as our likeness...' " (Genesis 1:26)

This is one of the stranger verses in the Torah. How can we say that a human being is in the image of a formless Being? God is infinite, without any semblance of a form. We have bones, flesh, veins and internal organs. This is our physical self. Does God have physicality? No.

So what does this verse possibly mean?

Another verse may shed some light:

"And the Infinite, Almighty, formed the man as dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils a living soul, and the man was life for a spirit." (Genesis 2:7)

Human beings are a combination of a physical self (dust from the ground) and a spiritual self (a soul). The physical self was created from the ground, matter that God had already put into the universe. Our soul, though, was "blown in" by God Himself. In other words, the soul is a bit of God, a piece of the Infinite, so to speak.

 

* * *

 

WHAT IS MAN?

We look out into the world and see rock, plants, animals, and mankind. What is the difference between them all? We all share types of matter and molecules. Yet plants seem to have a life force the rocks don't. Plants live, grow, and die. Animals have an independence and freedom the plants don't. Animals think, feel, communicate, and have relationships. Are human beings merely more sophisticated animals?

I've never seen a squirrel sitting cross-legged pondering the nature of reality. We don't see the complex emotions of Shakespearean sonnets expressed by dogs. They have simple emotions - "I'm happy my master is home." "I'm sad my master is leaving me in a kennel for the weekend." Dogs don't appear to have complex emotions. (I did once have a dog psychologist come over to assess my dog's body language, but that's a story for another time.)

If plants and animals seem to have an intangible life force, what was special about the soul that God blew into man?

Different commentaries give different explanations, but they all seem to say essentially the same thing using different words, different facets of the same diamond.

 

* * *

 

THE SOUL IS FREE WILL

An Italian rabbi from around the year 1500, Obadiah Sforno, said that our likeness to God is something called "free will." What is free will? The ability to choose. Not between a toffee nut latte and a frappacino, but the choice to become like God. To choose to be close to God, or to move away from God.

The entirety of human existence is based on this capacity.

When you are faced with any kind of moral decision, your soul wavers between turning toward or away from the Infinite. If you are wavering whether or not to return the extra change at the supermarket, free will is being activated.

Whether you sense it or not, we are all plugging into free will on a constant basis. Sometimes it is noticeable, other times not. Sometimes you will lose the battle without a fight, and sometimes you will win without a fight. Sometimes a struggle will ensue, and the inclination to move away from God will bring all the weaponry at its disposal to the fray.

If you win the battle - i.e. make the right choice - you move closer to God and your front line moves forward. The higher the level you're on, the more important your choices become, and the more of an effect your choices have on the rest of creation.

 

* * *

 

Spiritual Exercise:

Over the next week, try to notice at least one battle you have with your free will. Write it down. Think about it. Did you win? Did you lose?

If you gain a sensitivity to your free will battles, you can elevate all of your daily activities.

Published: October 21, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) joan, October 11, 2012 2:12 PM

my compliments

Beautiful article. I didn't want to see it end, I wanted to continue reading it and was sorry there was no more. yes I do know, there is always more. However I wanted to praise your words.

(9) Mort Metersky, October 21, 2011 3:51 PM

When is Right right and Wrong wrong?

We all have simple choices each day between right and wrong: to let a car into traffic when pulling out of store lot or not, stop in the middle of the street to let a person cross or not. We are faced with these SEEMINGLY mundane decisions every day. Most daily experiences could be categorized this way. Another seemingly mundane example: my wife wants to see one moveie and I another. Who is right and who is wrong? However, the fewer instances of choosing between right and wrong are HOPEFULLY not that plentiful if you are a good person. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I had a decision to make that was not easy. I could "watch and wait" as suggeted by my doctors' sons "experts" recommended as the hospital in which he is a professor of pulmonary and critical care, or not. The consequences of my decision to have the cancerous prostate removed had its consequences, even though now, 14 years later, I have a full life and am cancer free. Was I right or wrong? I knew what the could happen and I accepted them. Should I have prayed to G-D for a cure and depended on that, or was I a coward and took the "easy" way out. I will never know. So, what is wrong and what is right? The Torah has defined what is right or wrong and I try to live like that. As a Reform Jew I do not adhere to all it' laws. But I DO adhere to its moral and ethical one. There is no right or wrong in them.

(8) Anonymous, October 13, 2009 2:22 AM

Very nice! Thanks

Thanks for this article, it is very nice. I will try to increase my sensitivity and realize my free will during this week.

(7) , October 12, 2009 7:29 PM

great!

Enjoyed the article, but it was left me with one nagging question: why did you hire the dog psychologist in the first place??? LOL! Kol Tuv

(6) theresa wheeler, October 23, 2008 8:09 PM

"And the Almighty said, 'Let us make Man in Our image, as our likeness...' " (Genesis 1:26)

What does the Torah mean by "Our"when it says Let us make man in "Our" image and "Our" likeness?

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