“To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God.” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Parashat Beresheet is such a powerful and meaningful portion that we get to read much of it on Simchat Torah and immediately afterwards on the following Shabbat, not to mention the days in between.
It contains God speaking and the world coming into existence over six days and God resting on the seventh. We learn a second story of creation that involves Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Then, Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel, and Cain kills Abel. They, Adam and Eve, have another child named Seth. We learn there were ten generations from Adam to Noah. The portion ends with God having second thoughts about having created human beings and wants to destroy the earth and Noah finds favor with God.
While we could study this portion for months, I will have us only look at one and a half verses, Genesis 1:26 and 27. “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness ... And God created the human in God’s image, in the image of God, God created human, male and female God created them.” These two verses are probably very familiar to you. After all, the concept of b’tzelem Elohim, being created in the image of God, is a core Jewish value. Viewing these verses through a feminist lens, these two verses help give voice to male and female being created at the same time and being equal. Viewing them from a transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or LGBTQ+ ally lens, these two verses give credence to the origins of Judaism’s belief in six different genders. From a social justice lens, these two verses are the basis for equal rights as everyone is created in God’s image, each of us perfectly imperfect, no better than anyone else, and no less than anyone else. From a theological lens, these two verses challenge us to explore our God concepts so that we can figure out what we are to strive to be if we are to emulate God.
This summer, I had the great pleasure of studying with Rabbi Aryeh Ben David in a four-week seminar through the Jewish study center Ayeka, on Rav Kook (the first chief rabbi of Israel), his God concepts, and love. During our first day together, we were introduced to Rav Kook’s many journals that he kept. In Kovetz (journal) 1:259 Rav Kook said based on the Shema and these two verses from Genesis 1, “The calling out of God’s oneness yearns to reveal the oneness of the world, humanity, nations, and the whole cosmos.” Everything God made is one because God is in everything. God’s oneness emanates love, the unity, and interconnectedness of all being. Because we are created in the image of God, so we too, have a natural flowing of oneness and love “pulsating from our soul,” according to Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, explaining Rav Kook. Therefore, being created in the image of God means we are to love all of creation, including ourselves.
At this time in our country and the world, the question then becomes, as I am created in the image of God, how can I aspire to grow in my loving? After all, as Jackie DeShannon sang, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” What small step can you take this week to help you become a more loving human being? What can you do to remind yourself that the person you encounter at the store, in another car on the road, calling you, living in your house, or facing you in the mirror is created in the image of God and therefore both a loving human being and in need of love? What can you do to remind yourself of that with the person on social media whose opinion is different than yours?
May remembering that you are created in the image of God and that all creation is created in the image of God help you to have the opportunity to love another person and thereby see the face of God.
Susan Cosden is the director of lifelong learning for Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills.