One of the most important verses in all of Torah appears in this week’s Torah portion B’reishit: “And God said: Let us make the human being in our image, after our likeness” (Vayomer Elohim, naaseh Adam b’tzalmeinu kidmuteinu…” (Genesis 1:26).
Notice that God seems to be speaking to others, but who? The Midrash imagines this conversation between God and the only other beings with whom the Divine could possibly be talking – the heavenly host, or angels:
“Rabbi Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be God, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, ‘Let the human be created,’ while others urged, Let the human not be created.’ Thus it is written, ‘Love (Chesed) and Truth (Emet) fought each other, ‘Righteousness’ (Tzedek) and ‘Peace’ (Shalom) combated each other’ (Ps. 85:11). Love said, ‘Let [Adam] be created, because he will dispense acts of love (g’milut chassadim)’; Truth said, ‘Let [Adam] not be created, because he is filled through and through with lies’ (sh’karim); ‘Righteousness’ said, ‘ Let [Adam] be created, because he will perform righteous deeds’ (tz’dakot); ‘Peace’ said, ‘Let [Adam] not be created, because he is full of strife (k’tatah)”’ … Rabbi Huna the Elder of Sepphoris, said: While the ministering angels were arguing … the Holy One, blessed be God, created [Adam]. Said God: ‘What can you do? The human has already been made!’” (B’reishit Rabbah 8:5)
To review – the angels of “Truth” and “Peace” were against the creation of the human being because they knew that we mortals would lie and fight each other in battles large and small.
The angels of “Love” and “Righteousness” favored our creation because they knew that we would perform deeds of loving-kindness (g’milut chassadim) and acts of righteousness (tzedek).
In the end, God sided with “Love” and “Righteousness” and Adam Harishon (i.e. the First Human) was created.
“Truth” and “Peace” were right, however, because we are prone to lying and fighting, to intolerance of the “other,” hard-heartedness, self-centeredness and small-mindedness.
And “Love” and “Righteousness” were also right because we can be compassionate, empathic, generous, humble, and kind.
The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov summoned Sammael, the Lord of demons, because of some important matter that he wished to command Sammael to do, but Sammael resisted. So the BESHT told his disciples to bare their foreheads to Sammael, and on every forehead, the Lord of demons saw inscribed the sign of the image in which God creates the human being – B’tzelem Elohim.
Sammael was disarmed, and then agreed to do the BESHT’s bidding, but asked humbly and beseechingly before departing, “Oh children of the living God, permit me to stay here just a little longer and gaze upon your foreheads.” (Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber, Book 1, p. 77).
I encounter people every day, some with open and kind hearts, and some self-centered and mean-spirited. This story and the verse upon which it is based (Genesis 1:26) remind us who we are and before Whom we stand.
When those before me are kind, generous, inclusive, and loving, I see the words B’tzelem Elohim flowing from their every pore. When they are not, still I search for the sign of God on their foreheads, strive to treat them as if those sacred words are apparent, and I imagine what kind of world we would have if we looked for that sign in everyone we meet.