The first verse of the Torah (Gen. 1:1) is as follows:
|א בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.||1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.|
Here, at the outset, the Torah’s very first mention of God is as a Creator.
Now, fundamental to Jewish theology is the idea that humankind was created in God’s image. The phrase ‘image of God’ occurs three times in the Book of Genesis: 1:26–28, 5:1–3, and 9:6.
God’s incorporeality, of course, is also fundamental to Judaism, suggesting that His “image” cannot have anything to do with humankind’s physical attributes. Further to the point, the Hebrew word for ‘image’ used in this Biblical phrase is ‘tselem’ (צלם), which is not the Torah’s term for forms and bodies. Rather, in describing such three-dimensional shapes, the Torah uses the words ‘toar’ (טואר) and ‘tavnit’ (תבנית).
Therefore, as Torah scholars have given much thought to over the centuries, human beings must possess other traits that reflect God’s own. One proposition that resonates with me deeply is that of Rav A. I. Kook (1865-1935). In his opus ‘For the Perplexed of the Generation’, he writes at the very beginning (1:1):
|(א) שהאדם נברא בצלם אלהים זה הוא יסוד התורה. עיקר הצלם הוא החופש הגמור שאנו מוצאים באדם שעל כן הוא בעל בחירה.||(1) The foundation of the Torah is that man was created “in the image of God”. The essential meaning of “the image” is the complete freedom we find in man, [which means] that man must have free will.|
What shall we do with it?
* * *
Without free will, we would essentially be robots, programmed to live out our lives in particular ways, rendering morality irrelevant. On a basic level, free will empowers humans to choose between right and wrong, imbuing the concepts of “Good” and “Bad” with meaning.
These choices are primarily reactive. How to most properly react to other people in different situations? To animals? To nature? To the world? This facet of free will is inherently contextual.
Here I would be remiss not to admit that mine is not the traditional Jewish view, which defines a moral Jewish life as one which is lived according to the Torah’s (i.e. God’s) precepts. Jews must pray to God regardless of context, just as they must observe the Sabbath, wear special fringes on each corner of their four-cornered garments, and refrain from eating non-kosher food, etc., etc. Such religious commandments are not reactive, and, for me, neither are they matters of morality.
* * *
The other aspect of humankind’s free will, I believe, is our creativity. Unlike other animals, we have the capacity to create things that are entirely new to the world; in fact, it has been by virtue of this special human attribute that we have conquered the earth (for better or worse).
It is my belief that genuinely being true to ourselves calls for exploring and actualizing our unique creative drives. The fulfillment we receive from creating that which is uniquely ours is among the most precious experiences that make our human lives worth living.