Letters April 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

“Image of God”

Reader: Torah says man is created in the “image of God.” Bestowing man with emotions contradicts this, as God has no emotions. Secondly, as emotions do not apply to God, how does Torah say God “loves,” and “hates”? Thirdly, as God granted man emotions, what is the idea of man being told to control all his emotions, namely anger, contentment, jealousy etc.? Why give something, if not to use it?

–Saul S. Aptekar

Rabbi: As to your first question, Man being created “in God’s image” (Gen. 1:27), God did not make man a duplicate of Himself. “Created in God’s image” means man has a soul, an intelligence, with which to perceive God. But this is not man’s exclusive faculty; “God’s image” refers to only one human faculty. God gave man many faculties. One could rightly say, “God created man in the image of an animal” too. 

Regarding your second question, it is true that God has no emotions, as emotions are creations, and the Creator is not comprised of His creations. But as the Rabbis teach, traits applied to God are always in the negative, since we cannot possess positive knowledge of God. To express that God is not evil, Torah says He is merciful and long-tempered. But God’s mercy is unlike human mercy…His mercy is not an emotion. To express that God does not approve of idolatry, Torah says human idolatry “angers” Him. But God does not possess anger. Applied to God, “anger” is a metaphor for God’s will that man prioritizes accepting God alone and rejects any other god.

Lastly, God giving man emotions does not mean man should abuse them. God gave us a Torah to guide how we engage our emotions and all aspects of life. 

Dani Roth said as follows: We are created in the image of God, but not exactly like Him, since we differ as we are physical beings. Regarding the second question, Torah describes God with emotions because that’s how we can understand what Torah is trying to tell us. And for the third question, if we had no emotions. then what would we be tested on?

Learning from Animals

Reader: Talmud Eruvin 100b:  “Rabbi Yochanan said that if the Torah had not been given we would learn modesty from a cat (as it covers its excrement), that stealing is forbidden from an ant (as it doesn’t take other ant’s food), forbidden relations from a dove (as it remains loyal to one partner), and moral decency from a rooster.”  

So, is Torah necessary or not?

–Turk Hill

Rabbi: Although we can derive proper character from animals, most people do not, and thus, Torah is required for the masses. But Torah encompasses not only character perfection, but so many laws and real life lessons addressing monotheism, idolatry, justice, kindness, ownership, marriage, family, Temple and the gamut of human life. So, for many reasons, Torah is required.

Rabbi Yochanan means that God created the natural world with numerous species that exist not for themselves, but for man (Earth exists for man, see Rashi on Avos 2:8). And they serve us not only by providing companionship, food, leather and farm labor, but God designed their habits to inspire man’s habits. That’s some lesson, that their behaviors are not only for their own self-preservation, but to teach man proper character.  

During mankind’s first 2448 years, Torah did not exist. Therefore, from Adam through Moses, the natural world alone sufficed to offer man God's truths. God designed Earth for man, that we can use nature to arrive at truths concerning monotheism, justice, kindness, character, and all Torah fundamentals. God created the Jewish nation from Abraham the Gentile who had no Torah, which teaches this precise point: Abraham arrived at tremendous truths using his mind alone and pondering Earth’s and man’s designs. Only after exploring and analyzing lessons derived from the natural world, attaining a high degree of perfection, did God speak to Abraham and appoint him as the leader of the Jewish nation. 

Serving God is Self Serving

Reader: You wrote that “service of God equals service of the self.” How [then] do you explain Rambam in Shemitah V'Yovel (13:13) where the term “to serve Him” is used, that you are acting as God's servant, performing His will? 

—Alex Kahgan

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait replied:

“The next 3 words after “to serve Him” are “to know God.” So, to serve God means to gain knowledge of God. In gaining this knowledge we benefit ourselves to the highest degree which is God’s will, so we benefit ourselves and are in line with God's will.”