Incorporeality of God II


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: In reference to the Rabbi who said, “Part of God is in man”, I think he meant to say, “Part of God’s attributes” are in man. When we review the Chumash (Genesis 1:26) “Let us make man in our image”(Our image) as our likeness” the plural was used to show God’s humility. Since God has no form, the referred to “Image” must be referring to God’s ‘attributes’. If we place a mirror in front of man, and this man leads a Torah way of life, and is a servant to God, we see the reflective image of God.

God has unlimited attributes, some of which he gave to man, such as Wisdom; Who is good, and Who does good; Strength and power; and the ability to create, with intellect and hands. When we say the blessing; “Blessed are You, God our Lord, King of the universe, who formed man in His image”, was God using wisdom, or gave man wisdom, or both? Either way, wisdom was God’s attribute, and man’s attribute. So a part of God’s attribute is in man!

Rabbi Akiba said, “Man is of God! And what is far more, he knows he is of God.”

What motivated me to write to you was twofold; first, it troubled me that two wonderful teachers were squabbling in public, and over a mere misunderstanding. Second, I saw the opportunity to achieve the mitzvah of bringing peace between two Jews. Please forward this petition to the Rabbi, and see if he concurs with my
observation, “Part of God’s attributes are in man”, and by doing so, he will grant me the ability to gain the mitzvah.

Thank you, Chaim



Mesora: While I admire your intent to bring peace, in truth, I see no discord in Torah terms. The Rabbis write, “All disputes for the sake of heaven (to arrive at truth) will eventually be sustained. And those that are not for the sake of heaven will not. What is an argument for Heaven? The disputes of Hillel and Shammai.” (Ethics, 5:17) This means that if one argues with another in Torah, as did Hillel and Shammai, it is praiseworthy. We do not sacrifice a zealous battle over Torah truths for a lesser objective of placating another person. A Rabbi once taught that there is a tradition that one does not play politics in Torah study, allowing niceties to obscure a fierce, Torah debate. If two Torah students or scholars argue, they must not restrain their vigor and biting fight for their positions, so as not to upset the other. They must not allow anything to mitigate their strengths. Torah study must be approached with anger, “Af chachmasi amda li”, “But my knowledge sustained me.” (Ecclesiastes, 2:9) So writes King Solomon. The Rabbis comment on the word “Af”, which also means “anger”: “Only with anger will one’s studies be sustained”. All of one’s energies are required if he is to succeed at uncovering God’s immense wisdom. We are not allowed to restrain ourselves in Torah disputes. This would damage the Torah learned, and eventually spread to others. We must not allow the goal of peace, to surpass the objective of Torah truths.


Now, as to your points: we must know that man’s soul is created. As such, it has nothing in common with God, whose existence is not created, but Who exists, by His very nature. Therefore, God’s unfathomable nature, as he told Moses, Who possesses “essential existence”, has absolutely no parallel with man who is a created being: “To what will you compare Me that I should be similar?” This is Isaiah speaking God’s words, clearly stating that absolutely nothing equates to God. We cannot know Him, so how can we make any equations?


What then does the Torah mean by “In the image (tzelem) of God He created man”? Maimonides writes (Guide to the Perplexed, Book I, Chap. I):


“The term tzelem, on the other hand, signifies the specific form, viz., that which constitutes the essence of a thing, whereby the thing is what it is; the reality of a thing in so far as it is that particular being. In man the “form” is that constituent which gives him human perception: and on account of this intellectual perception the term tzelem is employed in the sentences “In the tzelem of God he created him” (Gen. 1:27). It is therefore rightly said, “Thou despisest their tzelem” (PS. lxiii. 20): the “contempt” can only concern the soul the specific form of man, not the properties and shape of his body. I am also of opinion that the reason why this term is used for “idols” may be found in the circumstance that they are worshipped on account of some idea represented by them, not on account of their figure and shape. For the same reason the term is used in the expression, “the forms (tzalme) of your emerods” (I Sam. vi. 5), for the chief object was the removal of the injury caused by the emerods, not a change of their shape. As, however, it must be admitted that the term tzelem is employed in these two cases, viz. “the images of the emerods” and “the idols” on account of the external shape, the term tzelem is either a homonym or a hybrid term, and would denote both the specific form and the outward shape, and similar properties relating to the dimensions and the shape of material bodies; and in the phrase “Let us make man in our tzelem” (Gen. 1:26), the term signifies “the specific form” of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his “figure” or “shape.” Thus we have shown the difference between tzelem and toar, and explained the meaning of tzelem.”


Maimonides states that man is termed a “tzelem Elokim”, “God’s image”, as man possesses intelligence, and not that in anyway does man share a component with God. Again, God created man’s soul, and God is not created. Therefore, man’s soul and God are not equivalent in any manner. A Rabbi once commented that God allowed His name “Elokim” (“Tzelem Elokim”) to be associated with man’s soul, so as to indicate the high level of this apparatus, and that through it, we may attain knowledge. God wished to indicate the high level of importance with which man must treat his soul. But this term “Image of God”, or “Tzelem Elokim” refers to nothing other than man’s created intelligence.


Ibn Ezra writes (Gen. 1:26) “And forbid, forbid, that there should be form to God. And so it says, ‘to what shall you equate me that I shall be similar?’ And on account of man’s higher soul that is does not die, he is equated in his life to God.” Ibn Ezra explains that on account of man’s eternal life of his soul, he is equated somewhat to God. But he adds that it is only a concession that the Torah speaks this way, as man can only understand ideas, in his own terms. In truth, there is no equation between God and man, or any creation.


What is meant by “Let ‘us’ make man”? (Gen. 1:26) Ibn Ezra writes that this teaches that God spoke to the angels, and created man through the angels, and not through anything already created in the physical realm, on Earth. How God did this is a mystery.


In conclusion, suggesting man is somewhat of a “reflection” of God, or that man possesses God’s “attributes”, must be denied. The Torah and the Rabbis use terms addressing both God and man, which are similar only in structure, but not in meaning. As sensual beings, all ideas we learn are tied to the physical, and are therefore greatly limited when understanding God’s nature. Certainly, if God says that nothing equates to Him, this too includes man’s soul, and we must be silent when tempted to project our subjective, false views. Instead, we must study the Rabbis’ words so that we are guided away from fallacy unsupported by Torah, towards whatever truths we might attain. We must also not be reticent in our learning, but conversely, debate in Torah with unbridled strength.