In the Image of God

בצלם אלהים

In the Image of God

photo by UN Photo

According to the Torah, human beings were created In the Image of God. In Hebrew, we say B’tzelem Elohim.[1] But just what does this mean?

Let’s start with what this does not mean. According to modern French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, B’tzelem Elohim does not mean we live in a world where we are all fundamentally the same. When we look at another person, we do not see ourselves. We are not each other’s mirrors. Instead, when we see someone as B’tzelem Elohim we accept that person as having his or her own unique life path. To Levinas, this distinction creates an opportunity for us to be in relationship with each other.

The face of another person does not reveal the image of God but just a trace of the Infinite. And when we see that trace, we cannot turn away because it is the sign of God imposing responsibility for the other onto us.

B’tzelem Elohim teaches us that to ignore the enslaved is like ignoring God’s creation. In recognizing a trace of the Infinite in another person we open ourselves to our responsibility for the welfare of others. And in acting on this responsibility, we fulfill our responsibility to God and honor our Covenant.


[1] Genesis 1:27