Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.

Chapter 3 - In the Image of God

Gen. 1:27.  And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.


What does it mean to be in the image God? When you look in the mirror, do you see God’s face? In The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides goes to great lengths to establish the principle that God is absolutely incorporeal. How can we be in the image of a totally non-physical being?

In Leviticus 19:2, God tells Moses to say to the Jewish people,   “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” Is this the answer to our question? You might reply that God said that to the Jewish people, but Genesis says that all people are in the image of God. True enough, but didn’t God say through Isaiah (42:6), “I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light to the nations”? The Jewish people are to be the light that brings forth holiness to all of humanity. And how is this to be accomplished? The answer was given to Zechariah (4:6) “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”   The Jewish people must ignite the light of holiness within themselves. And then, by example, without coercion, bring the spirit of holiness into the world. There is much, much more to say about this process. For now let it be sufficient to say that we have established a path connecting “You shall be holy” with “the image of God”.

We must admit that we constitute a very, very “fuzzy” image of God. The world has never achieved the Torah standard of holiness. Then, how do we improve the quality of the image?

The first thing to note is that “you shall be holy” is in the future tense. Then that “image” is a potential aspect that must be developed. This idea can be illustrated by the following allegory. When you take a picture with your digital camera, the image appears on the memory card as pixel addresses described by zeros and ones. All of the information needed to create an image is on the card. In order to get a true image of the original object, there must be a well defined process that can be applied to transform the pixel addresses into the final picture.

The transforming process that develops our “image of God” is described by Maimonides. In his summary to the  Guide for the Perplexed  Maimonides states “… that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.” To imitate the ways of God is synonymous with “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” 

In order to imitate the ways of God, we must know something of the nature of God. In The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides maintains that there are six essential characteristics of God. These are: (1) God exists; (2) God is one; (3) God is incorporeal; (4) God has intelligence; (5) God creates; and God governs. Of the six, all but one (incorporeal) have some relationship to humans. (1) Humans exist. (2) Humans have the capacity to be intelligent. (3) In the sense that creativity is the ability to transform something into something else that never existed before, humans have the capacity to create. (4) Humans have the capacity to govern. Maimonides also argues that, to the extent that the human being is a connected, interdependent system, the human mirrors a lesser form of oneness.

Thus, we have found a correspondence between human attributes and Godly characteristics. These are the attributes that must be “developed” to bring out the image of God that has been created in all of us. The Torah provides us with the means to transform our human attributes into a “God-like” image.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “And God Said”.

Emet v’chaim.