Let us Make Man
Yeshivat Har Etzion
parasha series is dedicated
le-zekher nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This parasha series is dedicated
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet
Please pray for
Zekharia Shelomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nahman ben Sara Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Hever, Gilad ben Aviva Shalit, Eldad ben Tova Regev, Ehud ben Malka Goldwasser
Let Us Make Man
The Torah begins with the creation of the world. The pinnacle of this process is the creation of man:
God said: Let us make man in our image, as our likeness, and let them (him) have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the animals and over the land and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him, Male and female He created them. And God blessed them and God said to them: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it, And have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb it shall be for you for food. And to every beast of the earth I have given every green herb for food; and it was so. (Bereishit 1:26-30)
Within the story of Creation as a whole, the creation of man is special. Firstly, the description of the creation of man is longer than the description of other creations. Secondly, the other components of Creation follow a more or less fixed pattern, whereas the description of mans creation deviates from this pattern.
God said, followed by a statement in the third person singular: either Let there be , or Let the earth bring forth .
Then comes whatever it is that is about to be created, and the expression: And it was so.
Finally, there is a description of some action: God saw that it was good; And there was evening and there was morning, a day.
When it comes to the creation of man, there are several differences.
The opening formula is different from that adopted for all other creations. Whereas until now the introduction has been in the third person singular Let there be, Let the earth bring forth we now find an utterance in the first person plural: Let us make .
This is a significant and prominent change, and many explanations have been offered as to its meaning. We shall address this question at length below.
Following the expression Let us make man, we find no phrase such as, And it was so, as is generally the case for other creations. This expression does appear, but only later on, after the blessing to man, and the description of the food that is meant for man and the food meant for animals. Thus, we have a sense that the phrase, And it was so is connected to the matter of the food, rather than to the creation of man.
Likewise, the actual creation of man is described in special language: God created man. The word created (bara) appears three times in the same verse: God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. For all the other creations, the Torah avoids the expression He created, adopting instead such formulas as And it was, And the earth brought forth, And God made.
Finally, following the creation of man, the Torah does not record that God saw that it was good. We do read that God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (1:31), but we have the sense that this may be referring to all of Creation. Besides, the evaluation here is that it was very good, rather than just good.
Thus, even from the differences in language and style alone, we sense that the creation of man is somehow different from the rest of Creation. But once we look at the content of the verses, it becomes quite clear that man is indeed a special creation.
Firstly, he is created in the image of God. This quality is unique to mankind, making him quite unlike any other creature. This unique quality is emphasized three times: Let us make man in our image, as our likeness And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him .
Mans uniqueness is also reflected in the role that is bestowed on him: And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the animals and over the land and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
God entrusts man with the task of ruling over the world. This is not a merely technical role. God created the world and is the true Ruler. He invests man with the authority to assume executive control, as it were. Man, who is created in the image of God, is Gods partner, as it were, in ruling over the world. Man manages the world as the emissary of the Supreme Ruler.
Let us make man Whom is God consulting?
Since man is such a special being, the description of his creation is different from that of the rest of Creation. We have discussed above several details that testify to the uniqueness of his creation. Each of these details is significant, and all are worthy of further study, but in this shiur we shall limit ourselves to a discussion of the opening declaration: God said: Let us make man.
As noted above, this represents a sharp departure from the language that has characterized of Creation up to this point, with a transition from the third person singular to the first person plural. However, the principal difficulty with this introductory phrase is not the fact that it is different, but rather the significance of the words themselves. When God speaks in the first person plural Let us make man He appears to be speaking to (conferring with or seeking the consent of) someone else. The verse then continues in the plural: In our image, as our likeness. In whose image is man created? And whom is God addressing? Is it conceivable that God has some partner in the creation of man?
The special language of this verse invites various explanations which invoke the idea of association or partnership:
The heretics asked Rabbi Simlai: How many deities created the world?
He answered them: Let us together consult [the account of] the six days of Creation.
They said to him: The Torah does not state [in the singular], In the beginning, God (E-loah) created , but rather [in the plural], In the beginning, God (E-lohim) created .
He replied: At the same time, it does not say created in the plural (bareu), but rather in the singular (bara). Similarly, it does not say, God said in the plural (va-yomeru) but rather, God said in the singular (va-yomer).
When they reached [the account of] the sixth day, [the heretics] were happy. They said to him: See, it says, Let us make man, in our image! (Devarim Rabba [Vilna], parasha 2)
The heretics sought to prove from the Torah itself that God is not One and alone, but rather that there are several deities. One of the verses that they used to support their claim was that referring to the creation of man which, according to their argument, testified to Gods partnership with some other deity. Further on in the same midrash, Rabbi Simlai counters this proof also:
The Torah does not say that They created man in their image, but rather, He created man in His image!
Notwithstanding this response, the question remains why the Torah chose, in these instances, to use the plural. After all, the text could have been formulated differently, such that the question would not arise. Indeed, the seventy elders who were appointed to translate the Torah into Greek (the Septuagint) did introduce slight changes so as to eliminate such difficult questions. One of the changes was in this verse:
King Ptolemy gathered seventy-two elders, and put them into seventy-two rooms, and did not tell them the purpose of his bringing them there. He went in to each one and told him: Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher. The Holy One, blessed be He, guided each one of them, and they all produced the same version. They wrote for him, God created in the beginning (based on Bereishit 1:1), I shall make man in the image and as the likeness (based on 1:26) Let Me go down and I shall mix up their language (based on 11:7). (Megilla 9a)
The seventy elders changed the words, but the Torah specifically chose the plural formulation. Why?
A theoretical answer may be found in the following midrash:
Rabbi Shemuel bar Nahman said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: While Moshe was writing the Torah, he wrote what was created on each day [of Creation]. When he reached this verse, God said: Let us make man in our image, as our likeness he said: Lord of the universe, why are you giving a pretext to the heretics?
He answered him: Write; a person who wishes to be mistaken will be mistaken. (Bereishit Rabba [Vilna], parasha 8)
This certainly does not mean that the Torah is trying to mislead its readers. Rather, the Torah is expressing a certain idea through this plural formulation, and the idea is important enough that God will not hold it back just so that people will not draw mistaken conclusions. One who wishes to reach an incorrect conclusion, will be able to do so. It will be his own problem of comprehension or, more accurately, of his perverse desire to understand the text thus. It will not be the Torah that has misled him. On the other hand, one who seeks to understand the true message of the Torah, will indeed understand it properly.
Hence, as readers who seek to achieve a proper understanding of the true messages of the Torah, our task is to try to grasp the idea that is represented by the special (and problematic) language that is used here.
One explanation that is offered is that it is the manner of kings and dignitaries that the individual speaks in the plural; this is the style of stature and honor. According to this view, the plural formulation has no special significance; it simply reflects the style of speech that characterizes royalty.
However, if this is the accepted style, why does it appear only in the context of the creation of man, and not throughout all of Creation or, indeed, throughout all of the Torah?
Furthermore, there appears to be some special significance to the declaration, Let us make man, such that we cannot simply pass it off as the accepted royal style of speech.
He consulted the works of the heavens and the earth
A different understanding is proposed by Radak (1:26, s.v. va-yomer) in the name of his father (Rabbi Yosef Kimchi):
As it were, He said to the elements: Let us make [man] together, you and I, for his body will be composed of the elements, while his spirit will be of a spiritual nature, like the angels. Thus we find, in the words of our Sages, of blessed memory: He (God) consulted with the works of the heavens and the earth.
Ramban (1:26, s.v. va-yomer) cites this view and agrees with it. He elaborates as follows:
God said: Let us make man the creation of man demands its own divine utterance (va-yomer), owing to mans great status, for his nature is not like the nature of the beasts and animals that God had created with the preceding utterance.
And the proper plain meaning of the expression Let us make is as follows: it has already been shown (1:1, s.v. bereishit III) that God created ex-nihilo on the first day alone, and then from those created elements He formed and made the rest of creation. When He imbued the water with the power to swarm with living things, He said, Let the water swarm (1:20). In the case of the animals, He said: Let the earth give forth (1:24). (Similarly,) concerning man He said: Let us make i.e., I and the aforementioned earth shall make man: the earth shall give forth mans body from its elements, as it did for the animals and beasts, as it is written: The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth (2:7); while the blessed God breathed into him his spirit, as it is written: And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
And He said, In our image, as our likeness, because man resembled both of them. In the composition of his body, he resembled the earth, from which he had been taken, while in his spirit he resembled the upper (spiritual) beings, which have no body and are immortal.
Thereafter the verse says, in the image of God He created him, to recount how wondrously man stood out from all other creations.
I found this, the meaning of the literal level of the text, attributed to Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, and it is the most plausible of all explanations that have been offered .
For man resembles both the lower and the upper worlds, in form and in glory . For in body he resembles the dust, while his soul resembles the beings of the upper worlds.
According to this explanation, the creation of man is narrated using special language because man is, truly, different from all the rest of Creation. All living things emerged from one of the existing elements: Let the earth sprout forth i.e., it is the earth that gives forth vegetation. Let the waters swarm the water gives forth swarms of living things. Let the earth give forth living things the earth issues animals.
When it comes to man, the situation is different. On one hand, he is taken from the earth, as we read in chapter 2: The Lord God formed man of the dust of the earth. On the other hand, he is not simply a product of the earth. Rather, there is special Divine involvement in his formation: and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (2:7).
Thus, mans uniqueness finds expression in the opening words of his creation: Let us make man. There are two partners, as it were, in his creation: the earth, and God. Man is a complex creation. He is not just a creature of the lower world, nor is he a creature of the upper world. Rather, he is a combination of both. Therefore, his creation requires a partnership of upper and lower forces.
According to this understanding, there is, indeed, a partnership of forces involved in mans creation, but the two partners are clearly not equal: one is the Master of the world, Creator of everything, Who also created the earth. He uses the earth, which He Himself created, in order to continue issuing new creations.
Indeed, it becomes immediately clear that this is the true intention: And God created man: the Creator of man is God Himself, just as for all other aspects of Creation which are said to have emerged from the earth or from the water, the Torah goes on to assert that it was God Who created them.
He consulted with the ministering angels
The above explanation would appear to solve the problem of the plural formulation of the verse. However, the phenomenon of expressions in the plural, giving rise to the impression of partnership or association, appears elsewhere, too, and in those cases the above answer is not appropriate.
Following the sin of Adam, we read: The Lord God said: Behold, man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil (Bereishit 3:22). Who are the many whom man has come to resemble? Here we cannot accept that the text is referring to God and the earth (i.e., forces of the upper world and forces of the lower world).
the story of the
If we consider all three verses, we are, once again, brought back to the same question: is it possible that God has some sort of partner, some associate in the upper worlds? Is it possible that there is some other being with whom God consults concerning the creation of man, and that man knows good and evil just like God does and this partner also descends together with God to confuse the language of mankind?
The three verses would all seem to imply that God is speaking to some being that belongs to the upper worlds. It is quite impossible to suggest that some other deity exists, or any spiritual power that is Gods equal, but it is possible that there exist, in the upper worlds, beings of a lower level than God, which are also created by God.
Indeed, several midrashim and commentators infer from the wording of the verse that God confers with the angels. Ibn Ezra, for example, addresses the three verses that we cited above in his commentary on Bereishit 3:22 (s.v. va-yomer):
Behold, man has become like one of us . Do not be surprised at the use of the word us. Similarly, we find, Let us make man in our image, and Let us go down. In all of these instances, God is speaking to the angels.
Rashbam adopts a similar view (1:26, s.v. va-yomer):
He (God) said to the angels: Let us make man. Likewise, we find in the case of Mikhiyahu ben Yimla, in Melakhim (I 22:19-22), and in Yeshayahu (6:8): Whom shall I send, and who will go for us, and likewise in Iyov (1:6).
Rashbam brings examples from elsewhere in Tanakh, where the text notes explicitly that God consults with the heavenly retinue. If so, then this is not an unusual phenomenon: God consults with the angels concerning His plans for the world. However, the fact that the phenomenon exists elsewhere in Tanakh does nothing to explain what need God has to consult with the angels. Can He not decide alone what to do in the world? What is the significance of Gods consulting with the angels?
The midrash in Bereishit Rabba 8 raises the question of whom God consults before creating man, and cites a number of different opinions. We shall now look at some of the other possibilities addressed there:
According to this midrash, some angels maintained that man would be a worthy creation, since he would possess positive qualities, and would be able to achieve good in the world. Others argued that he was not worthy of being created, since his deficiencies and, consequently, his potential for evil - would be too great.
The continuation of this midrash describes the outcome of this consultation:
What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He took truth, and cast it to the ground .
God decides in favor of the angels that support the creation of man; those that view his positive qualities. In other words, Gods verdict is that the positive aspects of man outweigh the negative.
Another midrash presents the consultation with the angels in a sharper light:
Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: When the Holy One, blessed be He, sought to create man, He first created one set of ministering angels. He said to them: Do you wish for us to create man in our image?
They answered: Master of the universe, what will he do?
He said to them: He will do such-and-such.
They said to Him: Master of the universe what is man, that You should remember him, and a mortal, that You should take note of him? (Tehillim 8:5)
He stretched forth His little finger between them, and burned them.
And likewise a second set of angels.
The third set said to him, Master of the universe: the previous angels that spoke before You of what good were they? The entire world is Yours; all that You wish to do in Your world do. (Sanhedrin 38b)
This midrash describes how God created the angels specifically for the purpose of consulting with them, but the consultation was fictitious: the moment that the angels uttered something that went against the will of God, He burned them. Ultimately, the conclusion is that the whole world belongs to God, and He can do whatever He wishes with it. In reality, then, there is no real discussion. So what is the point of God creating the angels and making a show of conferring with them? Why invite debate in the first place?
And He saw that it was good?
According to the various midrashim that we have examined, the role of the angels is to represent different views. Sometimes the midrash places one group of angels in confrontation with another group, one in favor of mans creation and the other against it. In other instances, the midrash presents the angels in confrontation with God, with God supporting the creation of man and the angels opposing it. What is common to each case is that the debate raises the question of whether or not man is worthy of being created.
The debate, in its various forms, teaches us that the creation of man was not a simple and self-evident matter. Rather, much thought and deliberation was required before concluding that such a creature should, in fact, be brought into existence.
Why is it specifically the creation of man that arouses such profound deliberation? Because man is a complex being. He is composed of both material substance and spiritual essence, and he has free choice. Therefore he is capable of great good, but he is also easily able to do evil.
The discussion with the angels gives expression to both aspects of man the positive and the negative. While God does eventually decide in favor of creating him, in the background there is the debate, the deliberation. The deliberation is not a reflection of Gods inability to decide, but rather an expression of the complexity of man; the fact that man can be good, but may also be not good. It is perhaps for this reason that the description of the creation of man is not followed by the words, And God saw that it was good. It was not yet possible to determine whether it was good, since it would depend on mans free choice.
What is Gods conclusion concerning mans creation, several generations later, when He sees mans actions? Is God able to declare, it was good?
Further on in parashat Bereishit, the Torah describes mans actions in the world. There is Adams sin; the episode of Kayin and Hevel, the incident with Lemekh, the wayward sons of God and human women, and the corruption of the generation of the Flood. After ten generations (from Adam until Noach), God looks at mankind and is deeply disappointed:
God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the land, and the entire inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, all the time. And God regretted having made man on the earth, and He grieved to His heart. And God said: I shall wipe out man, whom I have created, from upon the face of the earth (Bereishit 6:5-7)
After observing mans actions, it would seem that God saw that it was not good. God regrets having created man!
This is a most shocking and painful conclusion. Is it possible that God was mistaken in His decision; that man truly should not have been created? Were the angels correct in predicting that the inclination of the thoughts of his heart would be only evil?
The next verse (8), which concludes parashat Bereishit, is enlightening: And Noach found favor in the eyes of God.
Mans evil in the world is indeed extensive, to the point where God is grieved and seeks to wipe out mankind. However, immediately thereafter, the Torah testifies that there is still some hope. Not everything and everyone is so terrible. There is someone who does find favor in Gods eyes. And if there is one such individual, that is a sign that there is hope for mankind. There is still some chance that, ultimately, God may find that concerning man, too, It was good.
It is on this optimistic note that parashat Bereishit concludes.
He consulted with Himself
A different view in Bereishit Rabba 8 connects the end of parashat Bereishit with the verse, Let us make man:
God said: Let us make man. With whom did He consult?...
Rabbi Ami said: He consulted with Himself [literally: with His heart]. This may be compared to a king who had a palace built by an architect. When he saw the result, it did not please him. To whom could he complain? Surely to the architect! Similarly, the Torah says, He was grieved to His heart (Bereishit 6:6).
At the end of parashat Bereishit we discover that God is grieved to His heart over mans actions. The words, He grieved to His heart, describing Gods sorrow over human behavior, teaches us according to Rabbi Ami that it was God alone who decided to create man. Therefore, when man turned out to be a disappointment, He had no one else to blame; He could only grieve to His (own) heart.
According to this view, there is no debate with anyone else. God deliberates alone; He consults His heart.
What is the significance of this consultation?
This is an expression of true complexity; of two aspects that continue to exist within man and define his essence. Parashat Bereishit, with its description of the beginnings of mans world, presents this complexity from the very start, introducing into the world the question of whether mans creation will turn out to have been good.
Following the description of mans actions, we are almost convinced that it was not good. However, it turns out that a kernel of goodness still exists; it is still possible for man to be good and to find favor in Gods eyes. For the sake of this possibility it is worth continuing to maintain the human race.
But why is it so important to God to continue and to maintain mankind, with all of its complexity and its capacity for corruption and destruction?
Apparently, the extent of mans complexity is also the extent of his potential:
Rabbi Beriya cited Shemuel in the name of Shemuel: God saw all that He had done, and, behold, it was very good This refers to the evil inclination. But how can the evil inclination be called good? It teaches us that were it not for the evil inclination, a man would not marry, he would not bear children, and the world could not exist. (Midrash Tehillim 9)
It is specifically the evil inclination that facilitates creativity, building, and progress. It is specifically his ability to choose between rebelling against God and performing Gods will that gives special meaning to his choice of good, of doing what God wants him to. When the other creations (including the angels) perform Gods will, it is only good; there is nothing wondrously special about it, since it is for this purpose that they were created, and they are unable to do otherwise.
But when man,
with his free choice, with his evil inclination, chooses to perform Gods will
and to build the world with holiness, then it is very good. This imbues the
performance of Gods will with enormous power. It is for this that man was
created, so as to perfect the world in the
 The creation of man is 117 words long. All other creations are much shorter. The next longest description of a creation is that of the lights (sun and moon), which is only 67 words long.
 The expression Let there be (yehi) appears in connection with the basic infrastructure of the world: light, the firmament, the sun and moon. The rest of Creation comes about through one thing leading to the next: Let the water be gathered, that the dry land may appear; Let the earth bring forth grass ; Let the water swarm abundantly with moving, living creatures; Let the earth bring forth living creatures.
 On the fifth day, with the creation of the great crocodiles, the creatures of the sea and the birds, the expression And it was so is omitted.
 Admittedly, on the other days, too, there are slight differences: On the second day, the firmament is created, and only afterwards do we read And it was so. On the fifth day, we find no And it was so, but rather God created the great crocodiles and every living creature . These discrepancies should be addressed, but the scope of this shiur does not allow for a discussion of them.
 On the fifth day, too, there is a blessing for the crocodiles, the creeping creatures of the sea, and the birds (1:22), but it comes at the end, after And He saw that it was good.
 This entire unit, with its description of the food for man and for the animals, is unique to the creation of man. Why does the issue of food for animals appear here?
 Concerning the great crocodiles, too, we are told that God created them (1:21), but the verb is used only once, whereas in the creation of man it is repeated three times. It is interesting to note the similarity between the creation of the crocodiles and that of man, and the unique nature of the crocodiles is certainly worthy of further study. However, we shall not elaborate here.
 And God made the firmament (1:7); And God made the two great lights (1:16); And God made the creatures of the earth (1:25).
 What is the image of God? Some possible explanations: wisdom, intelligence (Rashi, Rashbam, Rambam); the ability to rule (Rav Saadia Gaon, Ibn Ezra); an immortal soul (Ramban); free choice (Meshekh Hokhma).
 Obviously, such heretical interpretations are not compatible with the spirit of the Torah.
 We shall discuss this latter verse below.
 Further on, the midrash proposes an explanation for the plural formulation: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: This man whom I have created have I not made both greater and lesser descendants to issue from him? That is so that if a greater one comes to ask permission from one who is less important than himself, and he wonders Why should I ask permission from one who is less important than I? Then he should be told, Learn from your Creator, Who created the upper and the lower worlds. When He came to create man, He consulted with the ministering angels.
 The citation here is from Rabbeinu Behaye (1:26, s.v. naaseh), who mentions this view and then disagrees with it. The same idea is mentioned by the Ibn Ezra (1:26, s.v. naaseh), citing Rav Saadia Gaon, and Ibn Ezra also disagrees.
8,1. This midrash also brings other opinions as responses to this question: God
said: Let us make man
with whom did He consult? Rabbi Yehoshua
 Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures and God created the great crocodiles and all the living creatures . (1:20-21); Let the earth give forth living things and God made the beasts of the earth (1:24-25).
 Some opinions were cited above, in note 14.
 A similar idea is suggested by one of the opinions in Bereishit Rabba 8: Rabbi Hanina : When God came to create man, He consulted with the ministering angels. He said to them: Let us make man. They asked him: What will he be like? He told them: Righteous ones will issue from him. [ ] but He did not reveal to them that wicked people, too, would issue from him. For if He had told them that wicked people would issue from him, the Attribute of Justice would not have allowed him to be created.
God consults with the angels. He needs their agreement, as it were, to create man, but He hides mans deficiencies from them, so that they will not prevent Him, as it were, from creating him. The midrash highlights Gods decision to create man despite his shortcomings. The consultation with the angels is fictitious; it has no meaning.
 Once again, this idea finds expression in the same midrash in Bereishit Rabba 8: Rabbi Berakhia said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create man, He saw that both righteous and wicked descendants would issue from him. He said: If I create man, wicked people will issue from him. If I do not create him how will righteous people issue from him? What did God do? [ ] He coopted the Attribute of Mercy, and created him.
This midrash once again highlights the deliberation, as well as the complexity of man. The outside element that appears here is not the angels, but rather the Attribute of Mercy.
 It is interesting that there is a midrash (Midrash Tehillim 9,1) that interprets the verse later on, And behold, it was very good, as an allusion to the evil inclination. Simple creations which have no capacity for evil and which perform Gods will automatically, are referred to with the statement, He saw that it was good. (Perhaps mans positive inclination is included.) However, what makes man unique is his evil inclination, which is an expression of his capacity for free choice. It is this evil inclination that makes man (potentially) very good - if he succeeds in channeling it in a positive way.
 The continuation of the midrash in Sanhedrin 38b, cited above, describes the situation thus: When He arrived at the generation of the Flood, and the generation of the Tower of Bavel, whose deeds were corrupt, they (the angels) said to Him: Master of the universe were the earlier (angels) not correct in what they said to You?