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The Uniqueness of Mankind

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )


The beginning of Genesis is the deepest section of the entire Torah and is discussed at length by the kabbalists. There is no end to its depth. An Infinite Being gave mankind a manifesto, a speech – the Torah – in which He imbedded all wisdom that is to be known.

God is part of every molecule of creation, but His essence, so to speak, is expressed in the Torah. As He is infinite, so is the Torah. Of course, there is a text which is finite, but as much as a finite text can have a conceptual and a spiritual basis that is connected to the Infinite, so is God's word to us.

You can study that from now until the day you die, and you will continue to learn new insights every day about yourself, life, spirituality, and the Infinite.


"And the Almighty said, 'Let us make Man in Our image, as our likeness...' " (Genesis 1:26)

This is one of the stranger verses in the Torah. How can we say that a human being is in the image of a formless Being? God is infinite, without any semblance of a form. We have bones, flesh, veins and internal organs. This is our physical self. Does God have physicality? No.

So what does this verse possibly mean?

Another verse may shed some light:

"And the Infinite, Almighty, formed the man as dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils a living soul, and the man was life for a spirit." (Genesis 2:7)

Human beings are a combination of a physical self (dust from the ground) and a spiritual self (a soul). The physical self was created from the ground, matter that God had already put into the universe. Our soul, though, was "blown in" by God Himself. In other words, the soul is a bit of God, a piece of the Infinite, so to speak.


We look out into the world and see rock, plants, animals, and mankind. What is the difference between them all? We all share types of matter and molecules. Yet plants seem to have a life force the rocks don't. Plants live, grow, and die. Animals have an independence and freedom the plants don't. Animals think, feel, communicate, and have relationships. Are human beings merely more sophisticated animals?

I've never seen a squirrel sitting cross-legged pondering the nature of reality. We don't see the complex emotions of Shakespearean sonnets expressed by dogs. They have simple emotions – "I'm happy my master is home." "I'm sad my master is leaving me in a kennel for the weekend." Dogs don't appear to have complex emotions. (I did once have a dog psychologist come over to assess my dog's body language, but that's a story for another time.)

If plants and animals seem to have an intangible life force, what was special about the soul that God blew into man?

Different commentaries give different explanations, but they all seem to say essentially the same thing using different words, different facets of the same diamond.


An Italian rabbi from around the year 1500, Obadiah Sforno, said that our likeness to God is something called "free will." What is free will? The ability to choose. Not between a toffee nut latte and a frappacino, but the choice to become like God. To choose to be close to God, or to move away from God.

The entirety of human existence is based on this capacity.

When you are faced with any kind of moral decision, your soul wavers between turning toward or away from the Infinite. If you are wavering whether or not to return the extra change at the supermarket, free will is being activated.

Whether you sense it or not, we are all plugging into free will on a constant basis. Sometimes it is noticeable, other times not. Sometimes you will lose the battle without a fight, and sometimes you will win without a fight. Sometimes a struggle will ensue, and the inclination to move away from God will bring all the weaponry at its disposal to the fray.

If you win the battle – i.e. make the right choice – you move closer to God and your front line moves forward. The higher the level you're on, the more important your choices become, and the more of an effect your choices have on the rest of creation.

Spiritual Exercise:

Over the next week, try to notice at least one battle you have with your free will. Write it down. Think about it. Did you win? Did you lose?

If you gain a sensitivity to your free will battles, you can elevate all of your daily activities.

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