In the Image of God

August 20, 2011 | by

Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith states: "I believe with perfect faith that God does not have a body. Physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing that resembles Him at all."

What, then, is Genesis 1:27 referring to when it states: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him." Is this a "spiritual" image?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

Does God have ears because it says, "God heard the sound of your words" (Deut. 1:34)? Does God have a mouth since it says, "God spoke to us" (Deut. 1:6)? Does God have an arm since it says, "I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm" (Exodus 6:6)? Does God have a hand, as it says, "I raised My hand to give it to Abraham" (Exodus 6:8)?


So why does the Torah use human terms to describe God?

Because the human mind is limited, and therefore lacks the ability to conceive of God who is perfect. So the Torah describes God in familiar terms, in order that we should grasp aspects of God's character. For example, we can appreciate that God has the power of communication (mouth), the trait of kindness (right hand), etc. This is a very deep subject and is the basis of volumes of Kabbalistic work.

As for the specific verse you cited in Genesis, what does it mean to be "in the image of God"?

Humans are like God in the sense that we have free will. Free will does not mean picking chocolate over vanilla. That's simply a preference, just as a cow chooses to eat hay instead of grass.

Rather, "free will" refers to decisions which are uniquely human: a moral choice to do right or wrong. This stems from the divine soul that is unique to all human beings.

There are times when you know objectively that something is good for you, but your physical desires get in the way and distort your outlook. The animal soul within us wants to choose the easy path, which may not be the morally correct choice. Sometimes we can actually hear ourselves fighting it out. Here's a conversation you may have had with yourself:

Divine Soul: "Let's get out of bed early today and really accomplish something meaningful!"

Animal Soul: "Leave me alone, I'd rather sleep."

Divine Soul: "Come on, let's be great!"

Animal Soul: "Relax, what's the big deal if we wait till tomorrow?"

What's going on? Are you schizophrenic? No, just battling opposing sides within yourself. And that's what makes the human being so unique. Of all God's creatures, only humans can become elevated through choice, as we are not bound in our decisions by any pre-ordained laws. That's truly divine!

To learn more about free will, go to


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